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  ·   By David Saff, The Daily Tar Heel   ·  Link to Article

Trump criticized for remarks on community colleges

President Donald Trump stated his opinions on the community college sector, showing support for name changes and more focus on job training in an address Feb. 1 at the annual Republican Retreat in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

At the same time, North Carolina community colleges have already started programs to help remedy many of Trump's concerns.

“We can invest in workforce development, job training and open new vocational schools because we want every American to be able to reach their full God-given potential,” Trump said in his speech.

His comments raised some skepticism, especially from members of the National Skills Coalition, who believe the Trump administration should mimic his words with actual action.

Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of the National Skills Coalition, released a statement criticizing Trump’s agencies.

Kleunen referenced the president’s last budget proposal, which called for cuts in job training, technical education and apprenticeship — though these cuts were later rejected by Congress.

Similarly, Kleunen recounted that when the president first presented his plan for a comprehensive infrastructure proposal, he promised to train a million new apprentices and increase the number of skilled workers in the United States. 

The most recent version of Trump's plan does not mention this goal.

Brian Long, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Community Colleges System, said in an email community colleges can only grow with proper funding. 

He said some specialized welding equipment can cost more than $100,000. 

"Advanced training also requires instructors who are experts in their fields, but it can be difficult for community colleges to recruit them,” Long said.

Trump also advocated for the use of the word “vocational” instead of community college or career and technical education.

“I think the word 'vocational' is a much better word than, in many cases, a community college,” he said.

The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) said in a statement the term “vocational” is long outdated. 

“Career and technical education is the preferred term for programs today and reflects the nature of today’s CTE system that imparts students with not just technical skills, but also rigorous academic curriculum,” the statement said.

The ACTE also criticized Trump’s characterization of career and technical education.

“You learn mechanical, you learn bricklaying and carpentry,” Trump said in the speech.

ACTE's statement pointed out the strong academic skills required to succeed in today’s high-demand career fields.

“CTE encompasses a broad array of subjects that touch virtually every sector of the economy,” the statement said.

At the 58 community colleges around the state of North Carolina, younger students have lost interest in non-tech fields. Long described this phenomenon as the interest gap, since some students are not aware of how some traditional jobs have changed.

Across the state, North Carolina community colleges have started implementing programs for young students to adapt to the workforce. In response to the interest gap, the NCCCS started Career & College Promise programs. 

“These programs allow qualified students to get a jumpstart on their workplace and college preparation while they're still in high school," Long said. "About half of the students in CCP programs are in technical fields.”

Long said N.C. community colleges are good at seeing the workforce needs within their communities and adapting to meet them.

“In Beaufort County, it is projected that the number of jobs in advanced manufacturing will increase by 10.5 percent," he said. "So Beaufort County Community College started an advanced manufacturing program to prepare students for those jobs.”

Programs like these allow students to get trained, stay in their community and earn wages to help them support themselves and their families.

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