McCrory's education proposal finds lukewarm support locally

Officials say other factors must be considered in funding plan
Feb. 04, 2013 @ 04:31 PM

Recent statements on education from Gov. Pat McCrory have drawn a firestorm of criticism from professors and administrators across the state, but locally, it's being received with cautious approval at the highest level.

Bud Marchant, president of Central Carolina Community College, said McCrory's proposal to fund colleges and universities based on their success in getting students employed — instead of the current method of funding based on the number of students enrolled — seems logical at first glance.

"I have to see how the governor lays out his proposal, but I do think it's the mission of community colleges to prepare students for jobs, so I do support that aspect of that plan," he said.

So while Marchant isn't bothered by the premise of the plan — which McCrory voiced on a conservative talk radio show last week — he did decline to voice his absolute support before he knows the details.

"It's not as simple as just saying ‘OK, everybody who went to Central Carolina, let's see if they got a job or not," he said.

Marchant said numerous other considerations must be made, including the cost of equipment for vocational classes, the fact that some subjects require smaller classes than others, and the extra cost of hands-on instruction, specialized training spaces, materials and other factors.

Even more controversial than McCrory's funding plan, though, were his remarks that tax money shouldn't subsidize liberal arts classes — subjects like English, social studies, economics and history — and that anyone who wants such an education should have to be willing to pay to attend private school, like he did when he studied political science and education at Catawba College.

McCrory and the show's host, Bill Bennett, specifically attacked gender studies classes and philosophy classes. Bennett — who has a doctorate in philosophy from a public university — said public schools shouldn't offer such classes, and McCrory agreed.

"I don't want to subsidize that if that's not going to get someone a job," McCrory said about gender studies courses, although it's unclear how he would decide which classes lead to employment and which don't.

Many educators quickly took to public platforms to voice their concerns and displeasure. But Marchant said McCrory's ideas makes sense for CCCC, which does offer liberal arts classes but only gives degrees, diplomas or certificates in decidedly vocational subjects.

"I don't presume to speak for the UNC System or anything like that; that's a four-year deal," Marchant said. "But we are here to train people to go to work, and I think that's a reasonable expectation, that we would get students into jobs quickly."

Anthony Harrington, the lead history instructor at CCCC, said McCrory's plan seems well-intentioned but ultimately misguided because even if a college were to train its workers perfectly to get a job, it can't create that job. Punishing colleges for a poor economy, he said, simply doesn't add up.

"Let's be honest, if the job is not there, you cannot get blood out of a turnip," he wrote in an email to The Herald. "It just won't happen. The economy has to be repaired, and right now, it is not there yet."

George Speth, an adjunct history professor at Campbell University, noted a recent survey that found that about half of Fortune 500 CEOs majored in English. He added that such an education can just as easily help someone who doesn't control millions of dollars and an army of workers.

"An uneducated electorate is easily led by propaganda and form their opinions based upon TV ads and celebrity endorsements and biased news sources," he wrote to The Herald. "Educated citizens are not so easily manipulated and are more willing and able to seek out facts."

Harrington, for his part, said that when he first got a job teaching history in the 80s, there weren't a lot of job openings — but that it didn't mean his studies were any less worthwhile.

"Does that say that going into history as a career is a bad move?" he wrote. "No, the economy and job market play a role, a major role, in getting that job. ... If those two are not functioning, then liberal arts education looks terrible, but if both are in great shape then liberal arts education looks extremely good."

Marchant was clear, though, that liberal arts — while important — don't constitute his instutition's main goal, which he said is to be a means to a better life.

"The future for people to get jobs in Lee County and in surrounding counties is to get a degree or credential here at the community college," he said. "That is the clearest path to a middle class life that will let you buy a car, raise a family and live the way you want to live."