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Community college presidents hope statewide budget maintains funding

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ASHEBORO, N.C. – Community college presidents are hoping the statewide budget next year maintains funding for schools that are putting people back to work, said Dr. Bob Shackleford.

Dr. Shackleford is the President of Randolph Community College.

He's been talking with legislators and trying to help them see community colleges as an investment for the state rather than an expenditure.

"I truly believe the stock of community colleges has risen in recent years, especially during the recession," he said. "We've been in regular conversations with our legislators to not just ask for money because we know everyone is asking for money. We know there's not any new money."

He went on to add, "But I'm also aware if our legs get cut out from under us at the community college system, it only makes the problem worse because there are more people not working, more people not paying taxes. And our revenues continue to decline."

During the recession, the state cut per-pupil funding 21%, he said. They also created a "growth fund" of $38 million for community colleges in the state to meet a 26% enrollment increase.

Now enrollment is leveling off as unemployment decreases.

"We are working diligently to get students through schools quicker, get them to graduation, get them into jobs. So we've created our own enrollment decline because we've created efficiencies. Now we're saying the legislature, don't punish us because of the efficiencies we've created."

They are asking legislators not to take away current funding.

"It would be tempting for the legislature to see that $38 million as low-hanging fruit. The truth is we grew that fruit...this is a great time to reinvest what we lost during the recession."

The NC Community Colleges Budget Legislative agenda outlines the need to reinvest dollars into closing the skills gap. They especially want to focus on high-cost, high-tech fields such as health sciences, engineering, construction, manufacturing, transportation and biotechnology.

The money could also be used to increase quality at the local college level, raising support for instruction.

"We also are facing a $59 million management flex cut," Dr. Shackleford pointed out. "We need those funds now to provide quality education to put people back to work, close the skills gap, improve the economy of North Carolina."