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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC Shouldn't Be Sole College In Our County

Durham Technical Community College President Phail Wynn asked the Orange County Capital Needs Advisory Task Force on Wednesday to consider working a proposal into November's bond package that would help finance a satellite campus in Orange County.

His request was met with reluctance, with county officials saying the $4 million pitch would have to take a backseat to more pressing needs such as education and elderly care.

Understandable, but they can't keep putting it off. Or they can at the expense of Orange County residents.

Orange County officials need to see that having a satellite campus of a community college should go hand-in-hand with their other educational goals. It's not one or the other.

It's not as if Orange County residents wouldn't use the campus; 22 percent of the students enrolled at Durham Tech are Orange County residents. That's a big chunk considering how far they have to travel. Imagine how many would use it if there were a closer campus.

But it's not just a matter of convenience. It's becoming a necessity, and Orange County better act on it before it's too late. Most new jobs being created require a lot of training and skill, specifically technical skills. High school graduates don't have those skills and need further training.

That's where community colleges come in. They offer the skills training that students need to get jobs dealing with technology.

There are a lot of good reasons for students not to go to a four-year college. College isn't for everybody, especially not right after high school. Smart students shouldn't feel pushed into going to college just because they're smart.

Community colleges offer a medium for students who aren't sure what they want to do or do know and know it won't require a bachelor's degree and all the outside-their-interest-area classes they'd have to take to get one. Some can't afford to go to a four-year college or want to work before going back to school. Some are already in the work force and want to ease their way into going back to school.

There are countless other reasons why a community college would be a good choice for many students.

Having a satellite campus in Orange County would certainly benefit the students who now have to travel to Durham County. And it would certainly benefit Durham Tech and all its students because it would have space to expand its programs. But Orange County itself stands to benefit as well.

It would end up with a more educated and skilled community. That would mean a better local economy because residents would be filling higher-paying jobs and companies would be attracted to the county because they would know they would find a highly skilled work force to employ.

And that would mean there would be more money available for other pressing needs.

That's not to say issues such as kindergarten through 12th-grade education and elderly care should be ignored or even deprioritized, but a community college satellite campus shouldn't be dealt with as something frivolous. Other needs in the county would benefit, at least indirectly, from the campus.

Perhaps Orange County officials could tie a satellite campus to public school needs. They could work out a deal where some high school students -- specifically vocational-technical students -- could use the campus facilities.

That way they could improve public schools while providing more educational opportunities beyond high school.

Orange County has two of the best school systems in the state, so it's easy to dismiss the need for a community college campus. Most of the students go off to four-year colleges anyway.

But what about the ones who don't? And what about people who want to update their skills?

It might not be the best time to add a campus in Orange County, but it never will be.

Columnist Erin Mendell can be reached at mendell@email.unc.edu.

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