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July 2002
Struggling to Keep the Gateway to Opportunity Open
By Casey Jacobus

     “We’ve become the solution to so many of society’s problems, but we’re starving the solution. CPCC can’t continue to respond to multiple populations and problems unless we have the resources.” Dr. Anthony Zeiss, president of Central Piedmont Community College, is not waiting for opportunities to come knocking; he is out creating opportunities, new ways to deliver education.

      Already fighting a state funding system that president Tony Zeiss says is biased, Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) is once again facing serious funding cuts resulting from the state budget crisis that will deleteriously affect its ability to open doors to better opportunities for thousands of students. And that, says Zeiss, is a threat that will affect the economic recovery of the region.

    “If we want to make an economic rebound, this school is critical,” says Zeiss.

     CPCC www.cpcc.cc.nc.us is the largest of the 58 community colleges in North Carolina serving 70,000 students every year. These students are divided between the 22,000 who take college credit courses, the 13,000 who enroll in a literacy program or the English as a Second Language program, the 26,000 enrolled in workforce development or personal interest classes, and 9,000 others engaged in services like the dislocated workers program.

     The college plays a vital role in educating and training the employees and future employees of local businesses and industries. Last year, a study sponsored by the Ford Foundation recognized CPCC as one of the two best colleges in workforce development programs in America. Also last year, the U.S. General Accounting Office recognized CPCC as one of four outstanding  colleges in workforce development in America. The college has most recently received the 2002 Newcomen Excellence Award for being a cost-efficient, well-run organization, an award previously won by businesses such as Cato and BB&T.

     Until the 2002-03 state budget is finalized, it is hard to say exactly what impact the cuts will have on CPCC and its workforce development programs. However, Zeiss says the college, which lost 4 percent of its budget in cuts this year and 2 percent the year before, is facing cuts of up to 10 percent from Raleigh and 5.5 percent at the county level. The impact of the state cut of $3.4 million would mean cancellation of 1,000 classes or more. If the county cut goes through as well, even more classes and programs will be impacted. Zeiss has already taken measures to deal with the impact of the current cuts including:

• Freezing all vacant positions

• Stopping all travel

• Eliminating all new equipment purchases

• Cancelling 30 percent of the summer school schedule, about 200 classes

• Reducing the fall schedule by approximately 500 classes.

     “The governor says he’s going to protect the classroom and cut administrative and support personnel,” says Zeiss. “But who is going to do the counseling, register the students, run the libraries, and clean the classrooms? All of these people impact the educational process.”

     The cut in classes is coming at a time when CPCC is facing a demand to offer more instruction, not less. Its enrollment went up 10 percent in the current year, as a slumping economy compelled laid-off workers to get training for new jobs.

     While the CPCC board of directors has vowed to try to minimize the effect of the budget cuts on students and to protect the college’s full time teaching positions, Zeiss says it’s an almost impossible task. Part-time teachers teach 60 percent of the school’s classes. Many of these are in the English as a Second Language program, the GED or high school equivalency program, or in specialized programs such as computer use. Eliminating these classes will deny many students the opportunity to get the training or education they need to get a better job. It will also deny employers the benefit of skilled job candidates.

     “We’re the gateway to opportunity for so many people” says Zeiss. “Now the door is closing. We’re turning 6,000 to 12,000 students away. It’s like eating your seed corn not to fund the community college system.”

     CPCC has a mission to be academically, financially and geographically accessible to all the citizens of Mecklenburg County. Fifty percent of its funding comes from state funds, 17 percent from county funds, 12 percent from tuition and the rest from other sources. Tuition for credit classes for in-state students is currently $31 per credit hour. In addition to offering classes at more than 200 neighborhood sites around Mecklenburg County, the college has five campuses and is constructing its sixth.

      Currently classes are offered at the Central Campus near downtown Charlotte, the City View Center on the city’s Westside, the North Campus in Huntersville, the North Campus Annex at Harris Business Center on Harris Boulevard, the South Campus in Matthews, the Southwest Campus at Hebron and Nations Ford Road, and the West campus near the airport.

      The new Northeast Campus at W.T. Harris Boulevard and Grier Road will open in the fall. The campus will have a 40,000-square-foot main building with classrooms, computer labs and administrative offices and another 5,000-square-foot building with an attached 4,500-square-foot greenhouse. The $8.5 million project was funded in 1997 by the issuance of Mecklenburg county bonds.

     “We’re designed to offer accessible education and training that leads to good jobs,” says Zeiss. “We have to be geographically accessible as well as affordable, and to take students academically wherever they are when they come to us. Our focus is on teaching and learning; we’re not in the research business. We’re an indispensable human development system for Mecklenburg County.”

     Zeiss came to Charlotte in 1992 as the third president of Central Piedmont Community College. Zeiss holds a doctorate in community college administration, a master’s degree in speech (radio and television) and a bachelor’s degree in speech education. He has authored and co-authored several books on economic development, adult literacy and national workforce development. His most recent publications include three books on creating high performance employees, a novel based on the War Between the States, and a book on community college leadership. Zeiss is past chair of the Board of the American Association of Community Colleges and was a member of the U.S. Vice President’s 21st Century Workforce Development Leadership Task Force in 1999-2000.

      The budget cuts over the past two years have already forced Zeiss to increase the operating efficiency of CPCC, to cancel low enrollment programs, and to increase student to teacher ratios. The impending cuts mean more tough decisions.

     “We have to decide who will be affected and by how much,” says Zeiss. “The Summer Theatre and annual Literary Festival are very popular with the community, but they are not critical to our primary mission. While we’re trying to protect the classes that are critical for those earning degrees, does that mean we cut the English as a Second Language program? How many immigrants won’t be able to learn English? How many of the functional illiterates in this county won’t get literacy training?”

     Zeiss says students have gotten the message. All of the fall’s online courses are already full and most of the regular fall credit classes are full as well. Preregistration is up 120 percent.

     “So, do we split classes and open new sections?” asks Zeiss. “If we do, we may not have any money left for the spring semester. If not, people don’t get the skills they need.”

     However, Zeiss is not just sitting around wringing his hands over the crisis in funding. Together with the Board of Directors and CPCC foundation members, he is taking some specific steps including asking every non-faculty credentialed employee to teach a class or two next year with no extra pay. Zeiss himself will teach a seminar on writing skills.

     Zeiss is also challenging businesses in the community to sponsor or underwrite classes for the sum of $1,650 per class (the cost of a part-time instructor for each three-hour, semester-long class). Several companies have already stepped forward including: Loftin & Company Printers, Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Charlotte, Harper Corp. of America, and First Trust Bank.

     Most importantly, the school is doing a feasibility study on a major fundraising campaign to launch this fall to address several critical needs. These include a $10 million scholarship endowment fund to help the working poor, $24 million in equipment needs, and a new program that partners with industry to teach such skills as medical surgical technologies and mortician training. The college has twelve such programs already under design, but no funds to put them into action.

      Even before the current budget crisis, Zeiss says CPCC has suffered for years from an unfair and discriminatory state funding system.

      “Approximately 75 percent of the state’s higher education budget funds the universities that serve 25 percent of the students,” says Zeiss, “leaving 25 percent of the state’s higher education budget to fund the community and technical colleges that serve 75 percent of the students.”

     In addition to this inequity, community colleges receive varied amounts of funding, so that CPCC, the largest community college in the state with six campuses and 70,000 students, receives the least amount of funding per student.

     “We are the poorest of the poor,” says Zeiss. “If it weren’t for the most dedicated faculty and staff, this school wouldn’t be able to serve the people in the manner that they are.”

      It’s all about jobs, says Zeiss. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 20.5 percent of the nation’s jobs by 2005 will require a bachelor’s degree or higher education, while 75 percent of the nation’s jobs will require training by community or technical colleges. In addition, community colleges are the overwhelming providers of re-training for all jobs.

     In Mecklenburg County the workforce represents an estimated 69 million hours of past instruction from CPCC. The college has several programs specifically designed to meet the county’s needs. These include

• JumpStart: Targets un- and underemployed individuals for retraining for high demand, high wage jobs, primarily in the trades. It is used as a statewide model program.

• Pathways to Employment: A national model of a welfare-to-workforce program that President Bush came to Charlotte to see.

• Rapid Response Team: Helps displaced workers impacted by the soft economy.

• International Workforce Needs: CPCC serves approximately 5,000 students in limited English proficiency classes.
     
In addition, CPCC’s Corporate and Continuing Education program works with 26,000 students and between 400 and 500 companies each year. It has also helped 2,000 small business owners become successful.

      While universities are exclusive by nature, community colleges, like CPCC, are inclusive. They are there to serve the needs for education and training among the members of the community – all of them.

      “We don’t have black tie dinners,” says Zeiss, “There are no 50-yard line tickets for major donors. We measure our success, not on whom we can attract or SAT scores, but on the achievement of 70,000 students a year, one at a time.”

       In many ways, CPCC is the economic engine for the region. Without the necessary resources, the door to opportunity and better jobs will close. If 6,000 or 12,000 people are denied the skills they want and need to improve their lives, it will affect not only the workforce, but also our ability to produce goods and services that produce revenue. That, in turn, will affect the tax base and slow the economic recovery.

       “We are clearly going in the wrong direction,” says Zeiss. “We’ve got to get people’s attention so they understand the value of this college to the area’s economy.”

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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