12/18/17 — WCC and county talk demographics

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WCC and county talk demographics

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 18, 2017 5:50 AM

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Wayne Community College President Dr. Thomas Walker, center, discusses demographics and broadband during a joint meeting with the Wayne County Board of Commissioners.

Wayne County has 13 ZIP codes.

Curriculum students at Wayne Community College represent 160 ZIP codes, while students in the work force programs represent 601 ZIP codes.

Enrollment figures, the college's demographics and the need for countywide broadband internet were among the topics discussed during a Friday morning breakfast meeting of Wayne County commissioners and the WCC's board of trustees held in the Walnut building on the college's campus.

WCC President Dr. Thomas Walker said he would like for the Friday breakfast to become an annual event where commissioners could receive a mid-year report.

Walker said he would like for WCC to be on the commissioners' June agenda for an end-of-year review as well.

"You have to understand your base before you can really plan on how to build the college in such a way to really benefit the community," said Charles Gaylor, WCC associate vice president for human resources, marketing, safety and compliance.

Commissioner Ed Cromartie asked if the number of African-American students on campus was representative of the county's African-American population.

Dr. Tracey Ivey, WCC vice president for institutional effectiveness and innovation, said she did not have that number with her, but that it is below the percentage of African-Americans in the county.

The school has a plan in place actively seeking to raise that number, she said.

The college's percentage of black professors also is below the percentage of blacks in the community, Gurley said.

"One of the issues we are looking at is transportation," Ivey said. "We feel like transportation is a barrier. We think perception is a barrier for some. So we are doing some outreach -- trying to explain, not so much that we are here to help you, but this is an opportunity that you can make available to yourself."

Another concern which is being looked at is cost, Ivey said.

The biggest bulk of the county's African-American population is in Goldsboro, Walker said. The city is approximately 56 percent black, he said.

"We are about 20 percent on this campus," he said. "So I feel that is an open market. It is a market that we haven't reached."

The college has made a recent hire in the recruiting area to devise strategies and activities for that market, he said.

Cromartie said that living in southern Wayne County, he had always had a concern that the college is about 20 miles from Mount Olive.

James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville is about the same distance, he said.

Cromartie has previously said he would like to see more of a WCC presence in Mount Olive.

"In tough economic times, transportation is a barrier for folks to get to any kind of training that doesn't involve what they need to do to survive the next moment," he said. "That drives that question."

Some of that issue is historical, Walker said.

In southern Wayne County, there is almost more allegiance to James Sprunt than WCC, Walker said.

"I want that back," he said. "But I would also say that north of Fremont, the allegiance is more to Wilson Community College. There are things that we are doing in Fremont because I want that territory back.

"I want that allegiance to be to the institution (WCC), and again that is where we have to talk about how we deliver programs. I don't know that it is going to be as simple as building a campus down in the southern end, and I come asking you all enough as it is."

"Amen," Commissioner Joe Daughtery said.

While the black student population is lower, the Hispanic population is disproportionately high on campus and is one of the highest-scoring populations, Walker said.

"I think we have to be candid," he said. "Here in Goldsboro, there is something that happens -- I am talking as a man who has been here 14 months. There is something that happens where Wayne Memorial Drive turns into Herman (Street) at those railroad tracks.

"There is something about people coming to this side of town. Wayne Memorial Drive, I call it the Pennsylvania Avenue of Wayne County. There is something that we have got to overcome. If we are having that success with our Hispanic students, logic tells me we can have that same success with our African-American students."

Walker added, "Are we offering the right programs in the right places at the right times? To do that we have to look at our demographics. Now, although we belong to Wayne County, I probably would not be exaggerating when I say 20 to 25 percent of enrollment is probably coming out of area."

It is not uncommon for WCC to have students driving from Wilson, Walker said.

"Our aviation program, particularly, has students from Dunn, has a student from New York," he said. "We constantly have students coming from Pitt County, Greene County. So in the business of higher education, your enrollment really is driven by what you offer.

"While the economy impacts a community college, so does what it offers and whether it is being offered where people can take it and in a mode that they can take."

That is one reason the community college pays attention to things like broadband access across the county, Walker said.

"We have a wonderful online offering, Walker said. "We are rated one of the top community colleges in the country in the quality of our online education. But if folks can't get internet access, at the appropriate speed, because this also requires them to get out and access faculty documents in a manner that is appropriate for education.

"If we can't get that, then not only may they not know about the online program, and if they do, they couldn't get to it. We all know that part of the challenge of the county is just where the demographics are and where we, as an institution, sit."

Commission Chairman Bill Pate said he hopes the county has solved that problem.

The county has signed a contract with Open Broadband that will operate a pilot wireless broadband program in the Seven Springs area. Mount Olive already has hooked up with the company, he said.

"I hope within a year or so we will be able to cover the entire county," Pate said.

Walker said he had been excited when that announcement was made.

"Speaking from just a revenue-generating perspective, online education is a very cost-effective way for folks who can thrive in that environment," Walker said. "But not everybody is built for online education."