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Column: Being realistic about what the Carolina Across 100 initiative can achieve


DTH Photo Illustration. Many recent graduates are concerned about their chances of future employment. 

As we approach the end of the school year, there is often a last-minute scramble to find jobs or internships. With millions of other college students and young adults nationwide looking for the same opportunities, it can become difficult to get your top pick.

This can frustrate students who might have to temporarily work a job unrelated to what they want to pursue, which also may not give them the necessary experience needed for higher level jobs or internships.

But as annoying and troublesome as such a scenario might be, the situation is worse for those who don’t have a college degree. These individuals often don’t have access to as many opportunities that offer a livable salary. 

Recently, UNC announced a statewide program called the Carolina Across 100, which seeks to expand employment pathways for people aged 16 to 24 who are out of school or work.

The five-year initiative will work with 20 community collaboratives across North Carolina to help meet the needs of local communities through cross-sector collaboration. UNC will contribute interdisciplinary teams of faculty, staff and students to support community goals.

A detailed schedule of the initiative’s plans and steps is available on the website.

With the economic effects of COVID-19 still lingering, many people still struggle to find well-paying jobs, and therefore initiatives like these can be helpful in supporting employment rates in the state. 

But will it be enough? 

The effects of the pandemic were particularly impactful for already impoverished counties in North Carolina, including those with a large Black or Latino population. 

Anita Brown-Graham, who leads the initiative, explains this. 

"We expect that this work is going to have a disproportionate aspect on Black and Brown young adults," Brown-Graham says. "In North Carolina, opportunity youth, or young people only qualified for low-skilled employment, stands at 20 percent of American Indian youth, followed by Blacks at 16 percent and Hispanics at 13 percent in comparison to whites at 9 percent." 

Therefore, it may be difficult to see how much of an effect that a single university program would have on all of these factors.

Additionally, some of the wording in the press releases and the website don’t go into specific detail on how Carolina Across 100 aims to solve many of the challenges it says communities face.

For one, even though the initiative seems to have good intentions and a well thought-out plan on paper, it’s still vague on what exactly the plan will look like in action. Furthermore, what metrics will the initiative use to measure its progress (or lack thereof)? 

What the program is using to essentially define success remains unknown. 

On the other hand, the initiative’s site does have specific numbers and figures listed, showing that research was conducted by Anita Brown-Graham and her team. When asked about the ambiguity of measuring the program's success, she was candid that those goals have yet to be made.

"It’s too early to have all the answers before we sit down with communities,” Brown-Graham says. “I've decided if we change the lives of 500 or 5000 young people, we should celebrate that.”

The detailed schedule and phases of the program are reassuring, but the initiative still needs to be more specific about what it’ll ultimately do to accomplish its goals. 

Regardless of the outcome, we can only hope that those who need help will find something good to come from it.


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