Carteret Community College (CCC) is receiving deserved accolades with the announcement that SmartAsset, a personal finance technology company, ranks the college as fourth best in the country in comparison to 821 community colleges nationwide. This ranking should go a long way in promoting not only CCC but the community college system in general.

The key elements that resulted in CCC’s ranking were data from the 2018-19 school year which included graduation and transfer rates, student-to-faculty ratio and the cost of in-state tuition and fees. All items that are important to college students in light of the growing cost of education, particularly in traditional four-year institutions.

The timing of this information could not be better as students contemplate their educational opportunities and the possibility that the larger four-year colleges and universities are either paring down their class participation or moving to a virtual classroom in response to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. This reduction in the traditional college and university experience has students reassessing their options before paying a yearly average of $9,400 for instate tuition at public universities, $23,890 for out-of-state tuition and an average of over $30 thousand for private colleges. There are additional expenses for room and board, fees and books, all of which make a college education very expensive.

As a brief comparison to these expenses, CCC ranked in the top 200 overall with a two-year semester tuition bill totaling $2,696 – a savings of $16,104 for the average in-state tuition for the same period.

It is worth noting that two other North Carolina community colleges were ranked first and second in the list with Brunswick Community College in Bolivia taking the top spot, followed by the college of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City.

What stands out about these three colleges is their geography. They are all located in rural communities which is significant considering they are competing with community colleges in larger regions of the state and the nation. The conclusion is that the state’s community college system and particularly these three community colleges are fulfilling the core mission as established by the state legislature 65 years ago.

In 1957, North Carolina led the nation in developing the community college system. Up to that point, North Carolina’s economy relied on agriculture textiles and furniture. But the future was in other industries and technology, so the state’s business and political leaders established the country’s first technical institutes providing custom-specific training for both existing and future industries. These technical schools eventually morphed into what is now a statewide community college system.

Since the initiation of the Community College Act of 1957 other states have established similar programs, but North Carolina’s program with its 58 community colleges, now the third largest system in the country, remains one of the top programs nationwide as was proven with the recent Best Community Colleges in America ranking.

But just as the community colleges have adapted to changing technology, the current pandemic is sure to create added demands on the colleges both locally and statewide. Students who were headed off to larger four-year colleges and universities are now focusing on either a gap year or are redirecting their education attention at nearby community colleges.

The potential growth of students attending community colleges as part of the four-year Bachelor of Arts Degree is a credit to the community college system. But this influx will be financially and structurally challenging to the core mission of the community college, which is to be responsive to the needs of local industries by providing the technical education facilitate so that those industries and businesses can survive. And in the current economic climate, every job is precious, as is every business that can continue to operate against unprecedented challenges

Carteret Community College’s recognition, as well as the other colleges in the top five of the national ranking, is well deserved and warrants congratulations. But the work remains for the college and its board to balance the services that have brought the college national recognition with the new expectations of students who are opting to begin their four-year degree programs at the community college in lieu of the traditional four-year academic institutions.

Considering all the challenges the state’s community colleges have faced over the past 60 years due to a dynamic business and economic environment, there is every confidence that CCC and the statewide system will succeed, but it will take imagination and and astute financial planning to meet these new opportunities.

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