05/18/09 — College's charge: New economic realities suggest more need for practical learning

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College's charge: New economic realities suggest more need for practical learning

Wayne Community College sent more than 500 new graduates out into the world this weekend.

Some of them will move right into careers, while others will go on to further their education.

For a good number of those who received their diplomas and certificates Friday, the road to their degrees has not been an easy one.

Some held down jobs and managed families while trying to improve their lots in life by pursuing college work. Others were traditional students eager to take advantage of training that they hope will lead them more quickly to new careers.

And still others were victims of the economic downturn, determined to find new jobs and new directions with the training they received.

But they were not the only ones honored this weekend. Also taking the stage were the Adult High School graduates -- men and women who decided to head back to class after leaving high school.

Their achievement requires even more courage and determination.

All of these new graduates should be proud of the steps they have taken to begin this new chapter of their lives.

In the coming budget year, community colleges, like all colleges across North Carolina, will take a hit. There just is not enough money available to fund every aspect of education at the level that really would be optimal.

However, the money that we are spending on community college programs -- especially those like the Adult High School program at WCC -- is critical to making sure as few people as possible are left with no options and no future.

Education is a gift of the possibility of a better life. It cannot guarantee success, keep someone from losing his or her job or get him or her that job in the first place. That is only achieved through hard work and perseverance.

But the more people who can say they have high school diplomas and college degrees, the more of a chance they have of making a successful career for themselves -- and staying off public assistance.

And the county benefits, too.

A skilled work force attracts economic investment. Having people trained and ready to work is a plus when a company is looking to relocate or to open a new venture.

Right now, the focus needs to be on practical education -- instruction that allows those who might not be oriented to traditional degree programs the chance to get training they need to find jobs and futures.

So, in this time of limited resources, that is where this state should start -- more money to make sure that young people can continue their education past high school, even if a four-year college is not their first choice.

And as families struggle to meet college expenses, community colleges can play a role here, too. A two-year start close to home could make college a possibility for some who might otherwise not be able to swing the cost of four years at a larger college.

And any assistance should come with strings -- if you get state aid, you must maintain a certain grade point average and stay out of trouble. And being required to pay back some of that grant or loan once you are employed isn't such a bad idea, either.

Colleges should be held to a high standard, too -- required to prove that they are doing their jobs with careers and quality in mind.

Those that are not producing graduates who have the skills they need to find work should be forced to improve -- and their funding cut until they do.

As the economy tightens, education is going to be even more important.

Putting money where our colleges are is probably one of the best investments we can make toward making sure we have more people making money than signing up for unemployment and welfare.

All we have to do is make sure that money is spent wisely -- and that the investment produces results.

Published in Editorials on May 18, 2009 10:47 AM