Nash County Community College President Lew Hunnicutt recently told the Rocky Mount City Council of his belief in a need to provide educational opportunities to more people between 25 and 44 years old who want to improve themselves in life.
“We have been neglectful and not purposely, but we’ve been neglectful,” Hunnicutt said of people in that age range.
Hunnicutt said while people in the 25 to 44 range only comprise 25 percent of NCC’s enrollment, given the fact people in the 25 to 44 range comprise a high percentage of those living in Nash County, “that’s unforgivable that we’ve not addressed it before now.”
“We are undertaking a program now where we are going to engage, recruit, retain, graduateū and make successful as many adult learners as possible,” Hunnicutt told the City Council.
He told the City Council members if they look at Nash County — whose population is 94,970 according to the 2020 Census — 20,900 of the county’s residents have some education at the college level but not a college degree.
“Now that may have gotten you the job you wanted forever and that’s great. But’s that 20,000 people I need to talk to and say, ‘Do you want to finish your degree?’” he said.
He also said almost 32,000 people in Nash County only have a high school diploma, but he said the statistic scaring him the most is one showing more than 9,500 people in the 25 to 44 age range in the county have less than a high school diploma as their respective level of education.
“We need to do better,” he said, noting opportunities exist for people 25 to 44 even if they complete a high school equivalency education.
“We can do that through our adult basic ed program,” he said.
Hunnicutt told the council that when adding up the number, that is almost 62,000 people in a county of nearly 95,000 people Nash Community College could serve better.
And Hunnicutt said if NCC only got 5 percent of that nearly 62,000, then that would mean nearly 3,100 new students, which would cause a 25 percent jump in NCC’s enrollment.
“Then I’d be coming to y’all and the county and saying, ‘I need new buildings. I need new something’,” he said. “I would love to be in that situation.”
Presently, NCC is serving 5,793 students — 2,918 in curriculum-based programs, 2,700 in continuing education and 175 in adult basic education.
And presently, NCC has 248 full-time employees and approximately 300 part-time employees and an approximately $30 million operating budget.
Hunnicutt became Nash Community College’s fifth president at the start of November 2019.
Hunnicutt spoke to the City Council during the council’s Oct. 25 regular meeting, marking the first time he had addressed the panel since Feb. 24, 2020, and prior to the COVID-19-related lockdown.
Hunnicutt noted that the cost today of a four-year college or university education is expensive but he said that at a cost of less than $6,000 a person can obtain two years of education and a degree from NCC.
“So why not send everyone to us first?” he asked. “Let us parent them for two years — and then we’ll make ‘em successful somewhere else.”
He said approximately 60 to 70 percent of NCC students attend tuition-free because of NCC’s scholarship endowment and also because of need-based federal grants for low-income students.
And he said NCC works quite effectively with the remaining percentage to not ever let finances alone be the reason for one not attending NCC.
“So I’m not going to go out and advertise, ‘Free, free, free, free, free’ to everybody because there are conditions with free,” he said. “I’m going to say to you a student is never going to walk away if finances are the only issue they have. We’re going to find a way to make that work — and we do very routinely.”
Hunnicutt also emphasized NCC has programs in which a student can subsequently begin a career in three months, six months, one year or two years.
Hunnicutt spoke about NCC’s electric line construction technology program, in which a student can enroll for a semester.
Hunnicutt said NCC does 40-person cohorts, with most of them being underwritten by Duke Energy or by the regional ElectriCities association of municipally-owned electric utilities or by an electric membership cooperative.
Hunnicutt said 16 weeks later, a student in that program gets a job, and he noted all of NCC’s graduates who went through that program the past five years were hired at an average starting salary of $50,000.
And Hunnicutt said two alumni of that program returned in the third year of their respective careers and launched scholarships for that program because by that time they were earning more than $100,000 a year in pay.
Among the rest of his remarks to the council, Hunnicutt spoke of the distance between NCC and City Hall being approximately seven miles, which he said is a barrier for people who do not have a vehicle to travel in.
And Hunnicutt, emphasizing his belief in the need to change the presence of distance as an impediment locally, said, “I envision at some point in the future some type of workforce training area downtown.”
Hunnicutt said he does not want to compete against Edgecombe Community College President Greg McLeod but he made clear he wants NCC to have a footprint beyond NCC’s campus off Old Carriage Road to do workforce training.
“So I envision that to make it easier to get to us. I do not want, ‘I can’t get there’ to be the reason someone doesn’t do something at the college,” he said.