HAMLET — Every few months for the past four years, Richmond Community College has announced a new “pathway” its students can take to begin studies at a four-year college — often, without ever leaving RCC.
The latest pathway, announced last week, would allow nursing students to complete their baccalaureate degrees at the private Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs.
Such agreements offer students a way to complete their studies more cheaply and efficiently. But they have another byproduct: They help Richmond County “grow its own” workforce.
“Only 13 percent of the population in Richmond County has a (bachelor’s) degree or higher,” RCC President Dale McInnis said in 2014, announcing one of the college’s first such pathways. “That’s less than half the state level.
“Prospective industries aren’t looking for somewhere to relocate when the county workforce has education levels lower than half the state average.
“These agreements are a step toward a solution to that problem,” he said. “Combined with our partnerships with other universities, we are well positioned to serve our communities.”
Patsy Stanley, director of career and transfer services at RCC, said such programs “have always been here.”
“It’s just that students and (other) people are not always aware” of their existence — or of the fact that such programs do more than just guarantee transfer credits.
Two- and four-year colleges have worked out credit transfers for decades. But in 2014, Stanley said, community colleges across the state formally signed agreements with 16 colleges in the University of North Carolina system to make sure that courses called the same thing also taught the same things.
About 20 private four-year colleges participate in the same “articulation agreements,” which guarantee college admission as long as a student maintains the requisite grades and completes the required courses.
Pathways from RCC now lead to four-year degrees in accounting, criminal justice, elementary education, health-care management and pharmacy, among others.
Now, Stanley said, communities with two-year colleges may “grow their own” employees instead of recruiting from four-year universities, where there also may be more competition.
Also, Stanley said, “we’ve got a lot of industries who actually send their employees (to get their) educations while they work.”
She said both Duke Energy and FirstHealth had benefited from such agreements in Richmond County.
RCC also offers high school students dual enrollment, so some may graduate with diplomas, as well as associate’s degrees — and then go right to work.
Teresa Sessoms, director of recruitment for FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, said many RCC students came to work after completing two-year programs in respiratory therapy, surgical technology or medical coding. Such programs require associate’s degrees or special certificates. But since positions that require bachelor’s degrees often require further studies, those students begin their work at four-year colleges that also offer master’s and doctoral degrees.
Hamlet Police Chief Scott Waters is a sort of poster child for RCC’s myriad pathways.
Waters earned his associate’s in criminal justice at RCC, then took the pathway to a bachelor’s from UNC Pembroke.
“That was the first college that came here” to teach, he said.
Waters attended class at nights and worked patrol during the days — though even his nights sometimes were interrupted by calls. He graduated with three other officers, whom the local paper said now were armed with both guns and sheepskins.
The Police Department posts fliers for RCC in its locker room, encouraging officers to increase their educations. When they complete certain courses, their pay and rank rise. And when that happens, the city must pay less for liability insurance.
But the best benefit, as far as Waters is concerned, is that when a Hamlet officer completes his education, “You can stay right here and make your home in Hamlet.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.