LAURINBURG — Area education officials discussed past progress and future challenges at their respective institutions on Friday during a breakfast sponsored by the Laurinburg-Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce.
Including state Sen. Gene McLaurin and state Rep. Ken Goodman, some 50 people attended the breakfast, held at Laurinburg Presbyterian Church. Speaking were Scotland County Schools Superintendent Rick Stout, Richmond Community College President Dale McInnis, St. Andrews University President Paul Baldasare, and University of North Carolina at Pembroke Chancellor Kyle Carter, all of whom identified future funding as a challenge to the reputation of the state’s system of education.
Historically near the median in teaching salaries nationwide, in the past several years North Carolina has fallen to 46th in the state rankings.
“Teachers have only had a one percent raise over the last six years — that’s pretty discouraging,” said Stout, who pointed to low pay as the cause for an exodus of teachers from the state.
“We’re having a hard time recruiting. You can go to Tennessee and make $10,000 more as a beginning teacher. You can go to South Carolina and Virginia and make more money.”
McLaurin said that his goal is to see North Carolina’s teaching salaries return to at least the national average.
The same difficulties exist in higher education, as with the exception of a 1.2 percent raise last year, the state’s public universities have experienced a salary freeze for the last five years.
“That wears on you and you begin to lose faculty and that’s the part that really concerns me,” Carter said.
“We’ve had a number of faculty leave as a result of that. What’s frustrating is that southern states around us have increased support to public higher education — and other places in the country are talking about North Carolina as a model for public education, and they’re emulating us, and they’re putting a lot of money in it and they’re bragging about being able to take faculty from the UNC system.”
St. Andrews University, though a private institution, has funding concerns of its own.
“The cost to educate a student is exactly the same at a private institution as it is at a public,” Baldasare said. “The only issue is where the funding comes from and who pays … I can’t tell you that there’s a single private college in the United States that tuition, room, and board cover all the costs of going to that school for a student.”
Baldasare identified the cost of maintenance and upgrades to the campus as significant challenges in the near future. Through its annual Laurinburg area funding campaign, St. Andrews typically raises over $500,000 from local donors, and also receives donations from corporations and its alumni.
“No matter where I go and whatever meeting I’m in, when I tell people what this community does for its private college, they are just blown away,” Baldasare said.
There are 6,117 students attending Scotland County Schools this year, a number Stout said was on par with projections.
“We’re not losing funds, we’re really not gaining funds, so that’s always encouraging because when we lose ADM that’s money per child,” said Stout. “Over the last few years we have lost quite a bit of money and we have lost quite a few students.”
The Average Daily Membership allotment is the amount of money allocated to a school based on the daily sum of all students expected at the school per month divided by the total days in a month.
Board of Education member Paul Rush expressed a concern with the proportion of county students now being homeschooled and attending private schools. Stout discussed the possibility of serving homeschooled students with a virtual learning program currently serving homebound students in order to increase the school system’s enrollment numbers.
“A lot of times when you have students on homebound they have to wait for a teacher to come to do their homework, so with our virtual program they now can see the classrooms virtually and they actually stay right on top of their lessons,” he said. “We want to increase this pilot program also to include those students who may be homeschooled and would like to still be part of our system but maybe don’t feel comfortable enough to come to a public school … . We know in the public school system that we need to be more flexible. We know we’ve got private schools challenging us and charter schools coming in.”
The two universities and Richmond Community College, on the other hand, reported promising growth for the fall semester. The college’s overall enrollment in for-credit programs increased by three percent, and UNC-Pembroke had its largest freshman class in five years. St. Andrews enrolled more new students this fall than it has in 20 years, including 35 international students.
“Sports, equestrian, and the Presbyterian church relationship that we have — all those have contributed over the history of St. Andrews to us having a very diverse group of students who have historically come and continue to come to St. Andrews,” Baldasare said.
He added that the school plans to add a master’s program in education, as well as undergraduate majors in middle school education, special education, communications and social media in the coming years.
One of the greatest successes in recent years at Richmond Community College, McInnis said, is emphasis on its transfer programs. When RCC’s associate’s degree graduates transfer to a four-year university, 94 percent of them perform as well as students attending those universities from their freshman year.
“Our students succeed when they transfer,” said McInnis. “The perception that RCC or any of the other community colleges are simply trade schools or tech schools is erroneous.”
McInnis also reported a dramatic increase in high school dual enrollment students, including students now taking welding and nursing courses at Scotland High School. He said that the state waivers that provide the opportunity for dual enrollment as well as associate’s degree courses for students at Scotland Early College High School free of cost to students are a “huge asset” that should be preserved.
“These students, many of them finishing ahead of schedule, are able to take advantage of this,” McInnis said. “Many of them are first-generation college students; no one in their family has been to college before and in many cases there was no expectation of going to college.”
RCC remains committed to its non-credit programs as well, including entrepreneurial support, literacy, occupational training, career readiness, and industrial support.
“Every manufacturer in this county has had a training program with RCC,” said McInnis. “Every time they’ve expanded, every time they’ve grown, every time they’ve started, we’ve been working with them every step of the way. Whether it’s addition of new equipment, whether it’s the addition of new positions, we can bring in state funds to help make that transition possible.”
In addition to funding, having lost $900,000 of its $16 million budget this year through management flex cuts from the state, space is one of RCC’s most eminent concerns. Currently, both the main campus in Hamlet and Laurinburg’s Honeycutt Center are “just about maxed out” in terms of enrollment with their current physical amenities.
In the last five years, admission to UNC-Pembroke has become something for applicants not to take for granted, Carter said. The college recently increased its grade point average requirement from 2.0 to 2.7.
“For lots of reasons we decided to change that,” Carter said. “We are not supposed to provide developmental courses to students coming in; we rely upon our community college partners for that. We have gradually increased the admissions standards to above the minimum required by the UNC system.”
Tough the school has implemented a new GPA floor for prospective students, some exceptions are still made depending upon the strength of individual applications.
“We’re seeing a lot of positive changes as a result of that: our faculty are more energized in terms of how students respond in the classroom, our retention rates are improving, and I think it’s helping the institution overall,” Carter said.
Carter said that there is no intention of barring students from a college education, and that taking remedial courses at a community college before transferring to UNC-Pembroke remains a viable course for the applicants it turns away.
“We are, in terms of selectivity, just a little bit above a community college, and we’re just fine with that,” he said.
UNC-Pembroke currently offers 41 undergraduate majors and 18 graduate programs. Of its 6,250 students, some 250 live in Scotland County, as do some 160 of its faculty members.
Carter also said that the school has “really turned into a residential campus,” with 2,000 students living on campus and another 1,200 living within walking distance.
“We have something very good here and we have to make sure that we protect it,” Carter said.
A full recording of the State of Education presentations my be viewed on the Scotland County Schools website at www.scotlandcs.schoolfusion.us.