HAMLET — On Monday, Rep. Ken Goodman, Rep. Garland Pierce and Sen. Gene McLaurin met with the Richmond Community College Board of Trustees to discuss ways to avoid additional cuts in state funding and the need to strengthen the partnership between the college and the University of North Carolina system.
RCC President Dale McInnis presented to the lawmakers issues that needed attention, especially concerning the funding involved with the college.
McInnis said that management flex cuts were introduced to RCC’s budget about four years ago and that it became part of its regular budget. This means that money is pulled off of the top of the college’s budget every year.
“When you have budget cuts that are long term it really can cripple your ability to provide services,” McInnis said.
McInnis said that budget cuts such as these can cause benefits to be reduced, more students to have to take part-time jobs, reduction in employment benefits and reduction in programs, staff and services. A combination of all these can force the enrollment rates to decline.
McInnis said that RCC as of now has been able to avoid these negative affects because of the support from the community, marketing strategies, the addition of in-demand programs, hard work on advising students, customer service and by reaching out and expanding services with public schools and high school students.
“Combine those things together and that’s why we’ve been able to avoid the trend, but now we have hit a plateau and we are trying to be creative,” McInnis said.
McLaurin agreed that the budget that recently passed was not in the best interest of educators.
“We had a budget last year that all three (Goodman, Pierce, McLaurin) of us voted against,” McLaurin said. “We didn’t think it sent the right message about what our priorities are in North Carolina. There is no better investment we can make other than in education. Our colleges have been engines of economic growth in our state for many years.”
McLaurin said that the legislature would likely revisit the cuts that have been made in the upcoming short session in May because the public has agreed that education is one of the most important priorities in the state.
Another focus the college wants during the short session is the improvement of articulation between the UNC system and the community colleges.
McInnis said it has always been an issue that some courses taken at a community college would not transfer to four-year universities, most notably the courses targeted to freshmen and sophomore students. With the introduction of the new Comprehensive Articulation Agreement, that should be approved in March by the UNC Board of Governors and the NC State Board of Community Colleges, universities and community colleges should be able to work a bit closer together.
McInnis said that the last agreement was in 1997 and that the new agreement will help tackle some of the problems with college credit transfers.
“It will be a big improvement,” McInnis said. “But while it is an improvement, we need to work to make sure the whole K through 16 experience is as seamless as possible. If it’s seamless, then students won’t have any barriers or obstacles while pursuing their education.”
Goodman sees the benefit in creating a more seamless road for students.
“You hear how much it costs to go to college and how students are getting in debt, so it is a good idea for students to get their first two years at a community college and then transfer to a four year system,” Goodman said. “It saves the state money and saves students money.”
McInnis said the perfect solution would be to come up with a common course number system for the community colleges and the universities. This would definitely help smooth over the process.
“It is a long term goal to aspire to,” McInnis said.
Other things RCC presented to the legislatures included the support of salary increases for all educators, to strengthen and encourage dual enrollment opportunities for high school students and to understand and optimize the college’s role and relationship to the Department of Commerce.
The State Board and Presidents’ Association also want lawmakers’ support with the retention of 2013-2014 funding levels. They would like to invest the $18.8 million in no-recurring funds, and the $13.3 million from enrollment declines, into programs for high-demand, high salary careers.
McInnis said the group is asking that it be reinvested into the colleges so the colleges don’t see a downward turn in their funding.
The three legislatures heard and understood the requests that were being made of them for the community colleges in the state and for RCC. Goodman, Pierce and McLaurin said they would do their best to try and get a plan implemented as close as what is being requested.
“We just have to keep fighting because every county is important,” Pierce said. “Enough people now are waking up to how important education is.”