Community colleges make strong case for funding priority

This editorial appeared in the Daily Dispatch, Henderson

Our community college system originated in 1950, when the state superintendent of public instruction commissioned a study to determine if there was a need for such institutions. With the state economic focus shifting from agricultural to industrial after World War II, workers, indeed, needed training beyond high school.

Seven years after the study's commission, the legislature adopted the Community College Act and provided funding for community colleges.

The system has undergone multiple changes in the intervening years to grow and evolve with the workforce and students' needs. The colleges' adaptability is a tremendous strength, as are the breadth of service they provide.

The scope of what the colleges do was on display last week in Wilson when nine of the state's institutions came together. From utility linemen to high school students seeking an edge entering a four-year institution, the community colleges have it covered.

The event was designed, at least in part, to make the case for the colleges' funding from the state. The campuses effectively communicated why they deserve the funding they receive and more.

"We need everybody in North Carolina talking to the legislative people about what our colleges do and that we deserve to be funded," Lyn Austin, a Johnston Community College trustee, said at the event, according to the Wilson Times. "Last year, the community colleges served something like 800,000 students. Universities served 200,000 students. Of the education money pie in the budget, the community college system receives less than 9 percent of that budget. Think about that. What is remotely just in those numbers?"

That is certainly a question worth exploring, but we would urge that an expansion in community college funding not come at the expense of four-year institutions or secondary education. There's no doubt that our community colleges consistently find new ways to help their students and our state's workforce. That's worth investing in.