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Financial aid & access top concerns for N.C. college leaders

Three of North Carolina’s most influential voices in higher education gathered Wednesday, Feb. 9, for a panel discussion at a civic engagement conference on Elon University’s campus. Their message was simple: state and federal lawmakers should preserve financial aid for students in the ongoing recession, and to stay competitive in a global economy, schools must widen access for those who want to pursue college degrees.

R. Scott Ralls, president of the North Carolina Community College System, spoke Feb. 9 at the 13th annual Pathways to Achieving Civic Engagement Conference on Elon's campus.

Thomas Ross, president of the University of North Carolina; R. Scott Ralls, president of the North Carolina Community College System; and A. Hope Williams, president of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, an advocacy organization for the state’s 36 private higher education institutions, spoke onstage in McKinnon Hall as part of the 13th annual North Carolina Campus Compact Pathways to Achieving Civic Engagement Conference.

With “Service as a Solution” the theme for the 2011 PACE conference, the three panelists offered their thoughts on how colleges and universities can engage with the community. The bottom line? The economy of the 21st century requires a highly trained, highly educated workforce with college graduates whose creativity is nurtured during their studies.

States that foster such innovation will emerge stronger from the ongoing recession with businesses that can compete in a global environment. “And if that doesn’t happen, the state will fall way behind,” Ross said in his remarks. “If it doesn’t happen in this country, the country will fall way behind.”

Financial aid, from the legislative tuition grants in North Carolina to Pell grants on the federal level, are also on the cutting board at both levels of government. What becomes of funding for those resources is critical, Williams said.

“Financial aid is like a quilt,” she said. “You need to have all pieces fit perfectly. If one piece is missing, it just doesn’t work.”

Nicole Gallant, director of Learn and Serve America at the Corporation for National and Community Service, provided the keynote address for the opening session of the conference. Gallant shared how fostering civic engagement not just at the college level, but in the K-12 realm, can show at-risk students that real problems can be solved in their own communities through education.

Thomas Ross, president of the University of North Carolina, on Feb. 9 shared his concerns about the future of higher education in North Carolina - specifically, threats to financial aid funding from the state and college access for those who want to pursue their degrees.

“Our work in education is both for its own sake and for the benefit of every other challenge,” Gallant said, describing the mission of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “Education must involve a civic component. It’s not just about learning how to hold down a job … it’s about getting your hands on the world, learning how to improve it.”

North Carolina Campus Compact launched in 2002 the help build the capacity of colleges and universities to produce civically-minded graduates and to strengthen communities. Elon serves as host to the organization.

Eric Townsend,
5/9/2011 4:02 PM