CCCC pursuing funds for dual-enrollment program

Sep. 24, 2013 @ 09:44 AM

If a public-private fundraising campaign goes according to plan, every traditional public high school in Lee, Chatham and Harnett counties will have a new guidance counselor next year dedicated solely to helping students take free college classes.

Central Carolina Community College, which has campuses in all three counties, is leading the charge to create what CCCC President Bud Marchant said would be a first-of-its-kind regional collaboration between a North Carolina public college and multiple public school districts.

If the program is funded, CCCC would hire specialized counselors to steer high school juniors and seniors who have some wiggle room in their schedule toward taking dual-enrollment classes. Students don’t have to pay anything, the college will receive more money because its funding is dependent on enrollment numbers, and local employers will have a broader pool of skilled labor to hire from, Marchant said, so everyone wins.

But the idea hinges on whether the college can raise $750,000 by April — the deadline to get the program off the ground by the start of next school year. That’s where Kirk Bradley, who runs Sanford real estate and venture capital firm Lee-Moore Capital Company, comes in.

A past chairman of the Lee County Education Foundation, who has orchestrated fundraising campaigns for other outside-the-box educational ventures like The Head of Class Project, Bradley said he’s excited by the way this proposal would merge high school with college — leaving students better prepared for the real world.

“You cannot just get a high school degree and be competitive in the workplace,” he said. “... [Employers] expect their new employees to bring a skill set to the job.”

Marchant said now, about 5 percent of high school students in the three-county area

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take advantage of free classes at CCCC. He said this program would likely triple that number in the first year or two, and that he hopes to eventually have more than 50 percent participation. He said the biggest stumbling block will likely be convincing parents who look down on trade or technical careers but don’t understand that with technological advancements, the times have changed.

“These are high-skill, professional jobs,” Marchant said. “The people there are treated like professionals and paid like professionals.”

But the flip side, Bradley added, is that employers also expect entry-level employees to bring more to the table — skills that high schools don’t teach. Students likely won’t be able to finish a two-year degree through the free dual-enrollment classes, but Marchant said it would be perfectly feasible to take up to 18 credit hours, saving students both time and money should they decide to continue in that program once they graduate.

First, however, the money must be there, and both Marchant and Bradley said “ambitious” is their optimistic way of describing an attempt to raise such an amount from three largely rural counties in less than a year. However, Marchant said, the program will be self-sustaining once that initial money is raised. Unlike other groups and charities that need constant help, he said, this only requires a one-time pledge.

The college has received $100,000 already from GoldenLEAF, a foundation that supports projects in rural North Carolina, and Marchant said the school will probably apply for seven different grants in total. He and Bradley will also seek about $350,000 in private donations as well as $25,000 a year for the next two years from the county commissioners in Lee, Chatham and Harnett counties.

“I think this is a novel, ambitious goal,” Marchant said. “But it is also timely and universally recognized as something we need.”

Bradley said other states have started similar programs, but North Carolina hasn’t although Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle support an increased focus on workforce development.

“But nothing’s been done to accomplish that, except by saying ‘Do more with less’ because of the economic constraints at the state and local levels,” Bradley said. “So that’s where this comes in.”