The state community college system will have to produce thousands of additional graduates each year to deal with a looming worker shortage in North Carolina, according to a new report by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research. By 2016, the state's population is expected to grow by 15 percent, and a huge wave of baby boomer retirements means community colleges will need to produce 19,000 more graduates each year -- a 75 percent increase over current numbers. The nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank calls for more state money for faculty salaries, equipment, student services and academic programs in high-demand areas such as health care. It also predicts North Carolina will need to tap into the rising number of legal and illegal immigrants. In the past decade, North Carolina's Asian population has increased 128 percent and the Latino population has jumped 394 percent, the center said.
The report comes two days after the community college system announced it would no longer admit illegal immigrants on the advice of the state Attorney General's Office. That policy will be in place until there is further guidance on the issue from the federal government. No matter how the issue is decided, community colleges will be a big part of the solution in churning out workers for the new economy, said Scott Ralls, the system president, who reversed policy this week on admitting students in the country illegally. At some point, if the interpretation of federal law opens college doors to them, Ralls said, then they will need to be trained and educated to be full participants in the state's economy. If not, he added, there will be more pressure on North Carolina to solve the workforce shortage in other ways, such as by preventing high school and college dropouts.
(Jane Stancill, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 5/15/08).