By Richard Sullins |

Growing numbers of students are taking advantage of dual enrollment opportunities at Central Carolina Community College to accelerate completion of college certificates, diplomas and associate degrees that lead to college transfer or provide entry-level job skills, CCCC President Dr. Lisa Chapman told the Lee County Board of Commissioners recently.

Chapman met with the board during its retreat in late January to give an update on the Central Carolina Promise program, which guarantees two years or five semesters of free tuition for students who are dually enrolled.

The program provides a unique opportunity for students who want to go to college, allowing all eligible Chatham, Harnett, and Lee county residents who graduate from a public high school, private school, charter school, or home school between 2019 through 2022 to be guaranteed up to two years of free in-state tuition and required fees at CCCC. Just over 1,000 of the students in the program are from Lee County.

Chapman said growing numbers of students are taking advantage of the dual enrollment opportunities to accelerate completion of their college certificates, diplomas and associate degrees that lead to college transfer or provide entry-level job skills, but there are still students not being reached by the program.

“We want them to make their own good decisions about what they want to do, but we also want to know that we have done a good job ourselves in letting students know what is available to them,” she said.

By almost every measure, students who participate in dual enrollment programs do better academically than those who don’t. They return to college for their second year at a rate 10 percent higher than those who are first-time full-time students, they earn credentials at a faster rate and their grade point averages are generally higher.

Chapman says the college places a premium on coaching students on career availabilities within the county and region, not just registering them for classes.

“At the end of the day,” she said, “if we have given a student as much information as we possibly can about a range of careers that is open to them so that they can make an informed choice, then we’ve done a good day’s work.”

Transfer programs remain the most popular among participants in the Central Carolina Promise program, studies such as nursing or engineering that bring students right back into the community. Industrial systems, health and fitness, and information technology also remain consistently popular. And in terms of short-term training that can help a student get that all-important entry level job, welding ranks very high on the list.

But there is still work to be done to make the program live up to its own promise.

After starting in 2018 with a small number of students, it expanded in 2019 to greater numbers of participants across a broader number of programs. In that last full pre-pandemic year among Lee County students, white students made up 53 percent of the enrollees, 39 percent were Hispanic, and just three percent were Black. By contrast, the general population of the County is 57.8 percent white, 19.6 percent Hispanic, and 20 percent Black.

The discrepancy is an issue Chapman says the college is working on.

“We have some work to do in that area. We need to make sure that our students who need to benefit from this are getting the information about this and have the opportunity to make an informed choice,” Chapman said.

Commissioners Chairman Kirk Smith, a Republican, wondered whether the differential could be the result of a perceived difference between cultures on the value of education.

“I don’t know why Black students aren’t participating. We have a larger Hispanic population but why they are engaged more is a question we have to answer,” Chapman replied. “One thing we have to address is how we communicate the potential of this program to the community. I think we have to engage community champions. I need to know them and they need to know me. We are working to do that and I think that’s one of the things that’s going to make the difference.”

Diversity is an important challenge for a growing institution like Central Carolina, one that Chapman and her team is facing head on.

“We are very close to becoming a Hispanic-serving institution,” she said, a distinction achieved when at least 25 percent of a college’s enrollment is Hispanic – and which opens the door for millions in new federal grant dollars. “We are almost standing at that threshold now, but we still have a mountain to climb in working to with our county’s Black non-Hispanic population. It’s become almost a trite expression to say that we want to make sure no one gets left behind, but that’s what we are doing day in and day out. Staying focused on the goal, and the goal is making sure that every single student who walks through our doors gets all the help we can give them to get where they want to go.”

Democratic Commissioner Robert Reives Sr. told Chapman it’s never too early to start teaching kids about the College Promise program.

“I’ve said it before, but the younger the student is, the more important an understanding of this program is,” he said. “It may sound condescending, but simplicity helps a great deal and I hope that you’re giving thought to telling them about this sooner.”

Chapman said that although there are career coaches in each of the public schools, there are a limited number of them and not enough hours in the day for them to meet current needs. Look for more career coaches to be included as budgets are developed during the spring.