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A brief history of community colleges in NC

Guest Columnist

After World War II ended in 1945, North Carolina began a shift from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy. With that change came a realization that a different kind of education was needed in the state for these new opportunities in the workplace. For those who did not desire a four-year university education, there was now the need for more than a high school diploma in order to take advantage of the new opportunities that industry provided.
In 1950, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction authorized a study of the need for a system of tax-supported community colleges. This study resulted in a plan for the development of a number of state supported community colleges. In 1957, the NC General Assembly adopted the first Community College Act and provided funding for community colleges. In that same year, the General Assembly also provided funding to initiate a statewide system of Industrial Education Centers. These centers were to train adults and selected high school students in skills needed by industry. By 1961, there were five public junior colleges which focused on arts and sciences, and seven industrial education centers which focused on technical and vocational education.
The need to coordinate these two third-level education systems led Governor Terry Sanford to appoint the Governor’s Commission on Education Beyond the High School, and in 1962, this commission recommended that the two types of institutions be brought into one administrative organization under the State Board of Education and local boards of trustees. The resulting unified community college system would provide comprehensive third-level education. In May 1963, the General Assembly passed G.S. 115A which provided for the establishment of a Department of Community Colleges under the State Board of Education and for the administration of institutions in the Community College System. In 1979, the General Assembly changed the state control of the system. Provision was made for a separate State Board of Community Colleges. The Board was appointed and organized in 1980, and met several times with the State Board of Education. The new Board assumed full responsibility for the system on January 1, 1981.
In 1966, there were 43 institutions with 28,250 full time equivalent (FTE) enrollments. Three years later, in 1969, there were 54 institutions with 59,329 FTE. The system had grown very rapidly, exceeding ten percent annually nearly every year until the late 1970s. In 1974-75, growth reached the 33 percent mark. The number of colleges has not increased since Brunswick Community College became the 58th in 1978. In 1991, the North Carolina Center for Applied Textile Technology in Belmont, NC became subject to the management of the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges.  In 2005, the Center was transferred to Gaston College and became the East Campus and Textile Technology Center. In 2010, the name was changed to the W. Duke Kimbrell Campus and Textile Technology Center because of a generous gift Mr. Kimbrell made to Gaston College. In 2013, Gaston College celebrates the 50-year anniversary of receiving its charter from the State of North Carolina.
Here are some interesting facts:
There are 58 community colleges in North Carolina. They are strategically located so that at least one is within a 30-minute drive of its citizens.
An estimated 840,000 students enrolled at one of the 58 community colleges during the 2010-2011 academic year. This accounts for 1 in 9 N.C. citizens 18 and older.
The North Carolina Community College System is the third largest in the nation, based on the number of colleges.
Historically, N.C. has had the lowest tuition in the Southeast Region — one of the lowest in the nation.
The average age of a community college student in North Carolina is 28 years old.
For nearly 50 years, North Carolina has offered no-cost, company-specific training to eligible companies in our state. N.C. was one of the first in the nation to offer this important economic development tool.
Training may be provided to companies that create eligible jobs, make significant technology investments or take on critical productivity enhancement efforts.
In 1988, the North Carolina Community College System celebrated its 25th anniversary, recognizing that in its first quarter century of service, the system had emerged as the nation’s third largest community college network, educating millions of students during its history and employing thousands of faculty and staff. In 2013, the North Carolina Community College System is celebrating 50 years of serving the people of this great state.
Dr. John McHugh is Dean of Gaston College’s Lincoln Campus.

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