FILE - Peter Hans North Carolina Community Colleges President

North Carolina Community College System President Peter Hans (center)

North Carolina’s community college system has seen its first spike in enrollment in the past decade, according to officials.

The North Carolina Community College System saw a 4.4 percent increase in enrollment in the fall 2019 semester and a higher increase in short-term workforce education – 9.4 percent.

The system's president, Peter Hans, said higher enrollment numbers could lead to better employment for North Carolinians.

“We're closing the skills gap with this level of growth,” Hans said. “It means more people are on their way to meaningful careers and brighter futures.”

North Carolina’s 58 community colleges have a compiled student body of about 700,000 students a year. Enrollment numbers in the fall increased at 53 of the institutions.

Hans credits local innovations, leadership, a marketing campaign and a new push for short-term workforce education for the boost.

"Our short-term workforce programs are leading students to good jobs in manufacturing, information technology, health care, transportation and other fields," Hans said. "With a small investment of time and money in these programs, students can begin a rewarding new career that can sustain them and their families.”

Short-term workforce curriculums are based on the skills required to fill the jobs the economy can offer. Many technical and trade positions do not require a degree, but sometimes require a state certification for employment. The state’s community college system offers training in growing industries in North Carolina, including aviation, industrial and manufacturing, information technology, transportation and public safety.

The state added more than 30,000 jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry followed by more than 18,100 in education and health services from December 2018 to December 2019, according to the North Carolina Department of Commerce. North Carolina’s labor force is more than 5 million, which is roughly half of its population. The state’s income per capita is $29,456, according to the U.S. Census.

Workforce development has been a priority for Gov. Roy Cooper.

The General Assembly allocated $15 million in the 2018-19 fiscal budget to the workforce development education. Cooper launched the NC Job Ready initiative set on putting North Carolinians on the track to higher-paying jobs.

Intending to increase the number of residents with higher education from 38 percent to 55 percent, Cooper proposed $45 million in the 2020 budget for financial aid and scholarships to promote community college workforce courses. The allocation, however, did not make it to the final spending proposal.

The governor also created the Finish Line Grants program, which helps community college students with financial emergencies such as medical bills, car repairs and childcare costs to stay in school.

A recent report by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources found that college and university enrollment numbers tend to peak during an economic downturn. However, North Carolina’s numbers are running opposite to that trend.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.