This month, thousands of students are coming back for their fall semesters at Wilmington’s higher education institutions, which are considered key pieces of the area’s economic development puzzle.
Those students, as well as the community, will notice new facilities and new programs this school year that are either present or on the way to Cape Fear Community College and the University of North Carolina Wilmington, among other schools in the area.
In deciding which areas to expand into, higher education officials have to keep an eye on future employment trends, for both students and the region.
A Fatter Course Catalog
UNCW, which celebrates its 70th anniversary Sept. 4, has grown from 238 students in 1947 to nearly 16,000 today.
Since Chancellor Jose Sartarelli took the lead two years ago at UNCW, at least seven new programs have been added or are coming soon to the school’s offerings. In May, the UNC Board of Governors approved a bachelor’s degree in digital arts for UNCW.
The school’s new Online Executive Master of Business Administration program began this year, a 48-credit- hour program offered by the Cameron School of Business to serve aspiring executives throughout the state who have five or more years of professional experience.
The university announced the addition of Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology and Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees in 2015.
Sartarelli said UNCW has also won approvals for master’s degrees in business analytics and finance, but the expansions don’t stop there.
“We’ve got 20 future programs under development,” Sartarelli said in an interview in August.
New programs require approvals, and the school works with faculty and local and state industries to develop plans.
“I believe the new programs are the lifeblood of the university because new programs are always looking forward, towards the future, towards the future needs in the marketplace, the workplace, etc., whereas existing programs many times look to the past,” he said.
In addition to new programs, new facilities are on the university’s horizon. A $66 million Allied Health Building will begin to rise this school year, with a groundbreaking expected to take place in January or February, Sartarelli said. The new, 170,000-square-foot UNCW building, part of the Connect NC bond that North Carolina voters approved last year, will house the College of Health and Human Services, including the Center for Healthy Communities; existing academic programs in health and applied human sciences, nursing, clinical research and social work; and related labs and classrooms.
“Not only will it help us expand the opportunities that we can give students in our current programs with the development of laboratories, teaching space, space in which we will engage our community and service activities and research space, but we are planning this building for our future as well, so when we add new programs in health and human services, we’ll have the space to grow into these programs,” said Charles Hardy, dean of UNCW’s College of Health and Human Services.
The health care industry and related professions make up the bulk of employment in the Cape Fear region.
“Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there will be a demand for that that does not go away in the near future, and so as we look at the slope of the line or the need or demand for professionals in health and human services, it’s only going to continue to increase, which is great for us,” Hardy said.
The Allied Health Building could be finished by December 2019, according to a previous construction timeline estimate from the company serving as the construction manager at risk, W.M. Jordan.
“You are going to see in the next two or three or four years, this campus being transformed and being prepared for the next 10 to 15 years of growth,” Sartarelli said.
Community colleges in the state and region offer training tied to the addition of full-time jobs here, as well as customized training for existing workers. In the tri-county area, those include Brunswick Community College and Cape Fear Community College.
At CFCC, recent customized training has involved a program for Acme Smoked Fish, a plant in Pender County, with courses that covered leadership and arc flash safety. CFCC officials were scheduled to meet with ACME this month to plan future training.
Mojotone, another growing Pender County business that provides musical supplies, is embarking on its first customized training project with CFCC this year, with a meeting to plan that training set for September.
“That’s our mission, to respond to the workforce demands of our service area,” said Amanda Lee, president of CFCC, referring to New Hanover and Pender counties. “We don’t start any programs until we know we have the support of the employers and local stakeholders.”
New programs at CFCC include business analytics and emergency management for those in the emergency services profession who want to become managers in their fields.
The school also offers corporate training, where CFCC goes into companies that pay the school for professional development and individualized training needs.
Lee said a career readiness program helps individuals who are unemployed or underemployed in Pender and New Hanover for free, offering them help with resumes, job applications, cover letters and interviews and guaranteeing them interviews with local partners such as the Hilton Wilmington Riverside, the Blockade Runner, staffing companies and government agencies.
CFCC is also looking at offering stackable credits, expanding overlapping classes and non-academic learning experience credits for military veterans.
In June, CFCC celebrated the opening of its 74,000-square-foot Advanced & Emerging Technologies facility at the school’s North Campus. The site includes 14,000 square feet of flex lab space that can be used for specialized training with commercial partners.
Two additional buildings at the site – a 23,000-square-foot Veterinary Medical Technology program building and a 30,000-square foot Heavy Equipment and Transport Technology building – are also allowing CFCC to add new programs.
The new CFCC vet tech program is one of only five in the state. The facilities were one of the final projects that CFCC built, using general contractor Monteith Construction, with funds from the $164 million bond referendum that voters approved in 2008.
The new emergency management and vet tech programs at CFCC came about in response to demand and interest from local employers, Lee said.
“We want to be sure the community knows that we want to know what their needs are and what their interests are because our goal is to offer programming that fills in any gaps and certainly meets their need. Community input is vital to us and we want people to feel comfortable reaching out to us and sharing their thoughts with us,” she said.
Jim Bradshaw, who works as a workforce development business services representative for the Cape Fear Council of Governments, said the adaptability of colleges like CFCC and BCC are critical to attracting jobs to the state and region.
“North Carolina’s known throughout the county for their community college workforce training programs. They’re well organized, they’re free [for companies adding full-time jobs],” he said. “They can put together programs very quickly and that’s one of the incentives that are offered when a new industry comes in.”