Despite continuing to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic while attending school, students at area community colleges and UNCW have more choices and chances.
At Cape Fear Community College, for example, there are temporary financial aid programs available designed to address COVID-19-related economic hardships.
“We’ve announced the Longleaf Commitment Grant, which is available to high school students who graduated in 2021,” said CFCC President Jim Morton. “Typically, students coming from households earning less than $90,000 can be awarded up to $2,800 per year for the next two years. They also may have access to some Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF), which are part of the Federal CARES Act and can provide between $250 and $750 for a student.”
And CFCC has a raft of new and enhanced programs that will prepare students for in-demand careers, Morton said.
“We recently finished renovating the building on Third Street that houses our auto collision repair program. There’s expanded workspace for students,” he said. “This program has been successful, and we’re trying to connect with local high schools to let them know about it.”
Community colleges can adapt to market workforce demands by adding short-term training courses in addition to more standard degree programs. Brand new at CFCC is a two-year associate’s degree program in advertising and graphic design. Morton said the college has been trying to expand its offerings in the digital realm, and this is one of them.
“Career possibilities would be graphic designer, multimedia developer, web designer and creative director,” he said. “The mean salary is around $52,000. This new program is extremely popular: We have 36 students in our first class, so we may start a spring semester class as well, since we have a lot of inquiries coming in.”
With the surge in apartment development locally, the college has seen demand for apartment maintenance personnel. It has added a program to train students in basic property maintenance skills. Morton said enrollment is healthy.
Cape Fear is also pushing apprenticeships for its students, the president noted.
“We just received approval from the state to have apprenticeship programs in HVAC, welding, automotive technology and heavy diesel,” he said, explaining that apprenticeships connect students with potential employers, who often hire them after the students graduate.
“We have about 22 students involved now and plan to reach out to more businesses and industries to partner with us,” Morton said.
Brunswick Community College also looks for new diploma and degree programs that address the region’s workforce demands, said college President Gene Smith.
“Our electrical lineman program is an excellent example of this, which began its first class on Aug. 9,” he said. “Through this program, students are able to earn industry-recognized credentials, including flagger, pole top rescue and forklift operator. This workforce development initiative also prepares students for high-paying careers in Brunswick County and throughout the region.”
Not all new programs are focused on trades. BCC launched an associate’s degree program in teacher preparation this fall, under a new agreement with the University of North Carolina system.
“Through this, students now have a seamless transfer pathway to support them in their next steps after BCC and in their goals of becoming professional educators,” Smith said.
Two other new associate’s degree programs are an emergency medical sciences program for training EMS professionals and a public safety administration program.
Like CFCC, BCC provides a wide array of financial aid for students, according to the president.
“We are particularly pleased to provide the Brunswick Guarantee and the Longleaf Commitment Grant. Through Brunswick Guarantee, Brunswick County high school students who graduate with a 2.3 GPA, and BCC GED/Adult High School diploma recipients may be eligible to pursue a degree, diploma or certificate at Brunswick Community College at no cost,” he said.
University of North Carolina Wilmington’s ability to train students for careers in the film industry got a boost from completion this summer of the University Film Center. The space, with its 4,000-square-foot soundstage and an 80-seat theater, is fitted with sophisticated industry-grade equipment. The center will offer students hands-on training in digital cinematography, digital editing, sound recording, design and mixing. Young filmmakers at the university will also be able to screen their work.
A new partnership with the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy will make it easier for UNCW undergrads to prepare for a career in pharmacy, UNCW officials announced recently. The two universities are creating an Early Assurance Program, offering an automatic interview for qualified UNCW students with the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Doctor of Pharmacy program admissions committee.
A new respiratory therapy program through UNCW’s College of Health and Human Services launched this fall and is the first program of its kind in the state, according to university spokeswoman Krissy Vick.
“The program offers two options: a four-year residential program for undergraduates and a degree-advancement online accelerated program designed for respiratory care therapists in the workforce,” she said.
Another undergraduate degree program hopes to prepare students for critical issues facing much of America’s Atlantic seashore. Vick said the new B.S. in coastal engineering will prepare students for existing and future job opportunities addressing the needs of Southeastern and mid-Atlantic coastal communities. The issues include beach nourishment, dredging, sediment management, coastal structure analysis and design, wetlands and marsh stabilization and restoration, hydrology, ports, jetties and inland waterways.
Responding to the high demand for graduates with business and technology training, UNCW has created a new combined bachelor’s/master’s “4+1” option to enable qualifying students to graduate with two degrees in five years. Successful graduates will earn a bachelor’s in business administration with an information systems concentration and a master’s in computer science and information systems.
And in a first for the UNC system, UNCW plans to offer new undergraduate programs in cybersecurity and intelligent systems engineering.
“The programs are slated to start in fall 2022, pending approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges,” Vick said. “These degrees will further our commitment to fill STEM and critical workforce needs in North Carolina.”
All three institutions are trying to manage the continued presence of COVID-19 so that students, faculty members and staffers can enjoy a productive fall semester. All three actively encourage students and employees to get vaccinated. They also require face coverings indoors and encourage social distancing and good hygiene practices. When distancing outdoors is not possible, BCC asks people to wear masks. It also has protocols in place for people who are exposed to the virus.
UNCW is conducting a vaccination program on campus and has mandated weekly surveillance testing for university employees and any students taking classes on campus. Nonresident visits to dorms had been suspended, and many non-class activities on campus had been moved online as of press time.
NOTE: This version of the story has been updated with the correct attribution of remarks about Brunswick Community College's new programs and financial aid.