Column: Governance Merger Won’t Improve Community Colleges | Opinion

Sometimes things that sound the same are not the same at all.

I would say when you think of higher education you can assume college is college and you might not easily see the differences between community colleges and universities. Both systems provide access to high-quality public higher education in North Carolina, but the idea that all levels and types of post-secondary education should be governed by one board is a joke.

The first thing I thought about when I heard the idea was a homophone: education at all levels may sound similar, but education at each level has very different meanings and very different missions.

I spent eight and a half years on the Forsyth Tech Board of Directors and came to understand Forsyth Tech’s role as a major engine of economic growth and socio-economic equity within our community.

In my previous role, as President and CEO of Novant Health, I relied on Forsyth Tech to provide the healthcare industry’s most important resource: nurses. Did you know that Forsyth Tech also trains power liners, firefighters, paramedics, cybersecurity professionals, and welders, to name a few?

Plus, there are programs for high school students that get them a high school diploma and associate’s degree at just 18 – for free. Not to mention free courses for people studying English as a second language, or the hundreds of certifications and continuing education credits that are offered to people to advance their careers and learn new skills.

Does that still sound like a four year old institution to you? Is it still reasonable to think that such incredibly different institutions should be run by the same board?

Another point of confusion for me with this idea is, what is the problem that they are trying to solve with organizational change? By all accounts, our university system is among the most respected in the country, and our community colleges do a phenomenal job of adapting quickly to the needs of the workforce.

Over the past year, our own community college has opened an aviation technology lab and program, offered incentives to encourage the next generation of paramedics to receive training, provided stipends and free resources for teachers in the Kindergarten to Grade 12 to learn more about cybersecurity and completed all health care. course offered at full capacity.

In addition, the students we train are successful at all levels. According to a study by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, community college students who earn an associate’s degree and then move on to four-year institutions have graduation rates equal to or higher than students who enroll directly from the high school or moving from another four-year program. institution. According to the same study, students who started at a community college also graduate within a reasonable time (2.5 years, on average) and at a lower total cost to the student.

As I reflect on my 40-year career, I think of the mantra that everyone who works in the healthcare industry holds to heart: First, do no harm. The kinds of changes that would undoubtedly result from the consolidation of governing boards of education could harm the very people they are meant to serve.

The idea that education is the same everywhere is, in simple terms, wrong. What does a power lineman have in common with a doctoral student in electrical engineering? While both impact the critical functions of our lives, who do you want your community to have available during a thunderstorm? An ice storm?

I implore you not to be seduced by the false belief that the creation of a single governing body for public education in North Carolina would benefit our students. Our state’s community colleges do a fantastic job training the future – and current – members of our workforce. Please do not allow unnecessary change to delay the progress of our national and local economies and, more importantly, the students and communities we serve.

Paul Wiles is a former President and CEO of Novant Health. He is currently Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem. He wrote this column for the Higher Ed Works

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