Report: Workforce of the future needs greater access to community colleges now

Report: Workforce of the future needs greater access to community colleges now

- in Must Reads

North Carolina’s community colleges are absolutely critical to the state’s economic future, a new report says – and a strong financial aid system is a key tool in supporting an effort to educate our current and future workforce.

To ensure North Carolina’s economic competitiveness, the state should increase its investment in need-based aid, said NC Budget & Tax Center Director Alexandra Forter Sirota, author of the report.

“Financial aid is a critical tool to ensure people have access to educational programs – and complete those programs,” said Sirota. “North Carolina’s community colleges are vital to training our workers for the jobs of the future.”

About two-thirds of the jobs of the future will require some post-secondary certification. But nearly 2.5 million North Carolinians aged 25 to 54 have no post-secondary education whatsoever. To meet the economy’s demand for a more educated workforce, North Carolina must make completion of education and skills training a priority for adult workers, the report says.

Tuition alone, not accounting for other education-related expenses, has increased by 17.6 percent at North Carolina community colleges since 2004-2005. State policymakers have increased their investment in state-based financial aid. However, increased demand from eligible students has lead to declining average awards and for some programs, like the N.C. Community College Grant, investments have stagnated.

The report makes numerous policy recommendations, including:

  • Increase investment in need-based financial aid.
  • Ensure consolidation does no harm to independent students with dependents
  • Collect data on the demographics of state-based financial aid recipients to assure access is equitable and outreach is successful at targeting disadvantaged populations
  • Allow students to use need-based aid to cover developmental education courses
  • Reserve a portion of institutional financial aid for students in need of emergency funds during the school year and/or for those applying late.
  • Improve marketing of the availability of need-based aid to low-income adults in locations they access (TANF offices, WIA one-stops, EITC locations, etc.)

To read the full report by NC Budget & Tax Center Director Alexandra Forter Sirota, click here.