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Wilson Community College President Tim Wright provided answers to the following most frequently asked questions:
Question: What factors influence community college enrollment?
Answer: The single biggest influence on community college enrollment is the unemployment rate: When unemployment rises, enrollment rises; when it falls, enrollment falls. In fact, a recent 30-year nationwide study by Postsecondary Analytics found a correlation so strong that it reliably predicts a 2.5% change in enrollment for every 1-point change in the unemployment rate, all else being equal. The phenomenon appears not to affect four-year colleges.
One reason is that the average age of community college students is mid- to late-20s — older than the average university student. Simply put, they work when they can find jobs, and go to college when they can’t. Even if they do attend college while working, it’s for fewer hours than if they were unemployed.
Two other factors are local population growth and, for good or ill, a college’s appearance. In North Carolina, rural community colleges have struggled as young people, especially, relocate from farms and small towns to the state’s growing urban centers. Finally, surveys consistently show that a student’s or parent’s initial impression of a college’s buildings and grounds plays a strong role in their choice.
Question: What if I can’t afford college?
Answer: Actually, you almost certainly can afford a North Carolina community college. In-state tuition is $76 per hour. Twelve hours per semester is only $973.16 at WCC, including fees. In fact, tuition and fees max out at 16 hours or more, for only $1,285.88. A semester at public university runs upward of $3,500, and it’s even more at private colleges.
Plus, most students at WCC qualify for federal aid (usually Pell grants) and/or WCC scholarships. The WCC Foundation awards about $100,000 annually to around 120 students who qualify for scholarships, usually through a combination of merit and need. But you don’t necessarily have to be a straight-A student to win one.
Question: What if I have kids, work too much or don’t own a car?
Answer: All of those challenges confront many of our students. WCC makes a special effort to schedule classes both day and night, face-to-face and online (or hybrid, a mixture of the two). You can use our computer labs for free, on your own time. A Wilson Transit bus stops right in front of the Herring Avenue campus. And although WCC doesn’t offer day care, we are well connected with all kinds of county services to make sure you have access to every resource available.
Question: Are online classes as “good” as face-to-face classes?
Answer: That depends. Obviously, a face-to-face class can also offer any online component, so in that sense it is, indeed, “better.” But it’s also true that online classes usually offer plenty of access to the instructor and frequent interactive discussions with your classmates — sometimes more than you might experience in a face-to-face class. Degrees earned totally online are more common than ever, and most students at any college take one or more online classes along the way.
Moreover, if kids, or work, or transportation challenges make regular class attendance impossible for you, then it’s not a real choice anyway, is it? And for students struggling with “life happens!” responsibilities, the flexibility of being able to work online whenever you want is a strong benefit.
Question: If industry has a worker shortage, and Wilson County has lots of unemployed folks, why is it so hard to put them together?
Answer: It’s complicated; if it weren’t, somebody would have solved it already, because it’s a serious statewide and nationwide problem as well. Every person’s case is unique, but the short answer is that almost by definition, a 24- to 64-year-old who is not working and not attending college is up against some kind of challenge (with some exceptions, naturally). As cited above, kids, transportation and sparse finances are common hurdles.
Other obstacles to employment are a criminal record or a failed drug test. But normally, neither of those would disqualify a person from attending college (unless listed on the sex offender registry; and, no, online classes don’t nullify that ban). Furthermore, many community college degrees, like IT, accounting, cosmetology and others, offer real entrepreneurial opportunities — don’t forget that you can always work for yourself, and WCC even offers free help and advice through our state-leading Small Business Center!
• Today — Red Cross blood drive in the Eagles Center, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• March 2-31 — Dress for Success Clothing Drive.
• March 5 — Career and College Promise parent/student information meeting in the DelMastro Auditorium, 6 p.m.
Jessica Bailey is the director of institutional advancement at Wilson Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-246-1271.