I write this letter to encourage all the citizens in the Wilkes Community College service area – Alleghany, Ashe and Wilkes counties – to support the Connect NC Bond referendum on March 15. The $2 billion bond will provide much needed capital funding for our state’s community colleges and universities, for National Guard Armories, for our state parks, and for essential infrastructure upgrades to water and sewer systems across the state.
In my role as president of Wilkes Community College, I am particularly excited about the $350 million in funds to support our state’s 58 community colleges, and more specifically, the $5.24 million we will get here at Wilkes Community College to enhance our facilities in Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany. We plan to utilize the funds to significantly expand our Ashe Campus so that we can serve even more students in Ashe County. We will use the funds in Wilkes County to renovate and expand our Wilkes Early College High School facility, create a new space for our fabulous culinary program, complete a vital roof replacement project, and complete several other renovations to streamline our services for students. In Alleghany County, we will be able to construct a new diesel/heavy equipment and welding facility as well as make some much needed repairs to the building that houses our Alleghany Center. All of these projects will directly and positively impact our ability to serve the citizens in our service area as we upgrade and expand facilities that are long overdue for improvement.
North Carolina’s community colleges are an essential component for continued economic growth and opportunity in our state. Wilkes Community College, the only institution of higher education in Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany counties, is certainly a critical partner in educating, training and developing the workforce in our area– a key factor for business owners who are considering expanding in or relocating to this area.
With the increasing costs of a college education over the last couple of decades, we are so fortunate to have Wilkes Community College in our region providing an affordable and high quality education to our citizens. We are working hard to expand our Career & College Promise and Early College programs, which give high school students the opportunity to earn college credits tuition-free while they are still in high school. There is no reason any student in our region should not be able to obtain at least a two-year associate degree without being overburdened with student loan debt.
Beyond working with high school students and recent high school graduates, Wilkes Community College works with citizens of all ages to prepare them for advancement in the workforce. We provide the critical service of retraining displaced or underemployed workers to compete in today’s economy. As a result of the work we do with all of our students in preparing them for the workforce, Wilkes Community College is, indeed, one of the most important economic resources we have in our region.
As I have communicated with legislators and educational and business leaders across the state, I have been pleased by the bi-partisan support I have seen for this bond package. Most of the folks I have spoken to seem to understand how vital it is that we continue to invest in our future. If our state is going to compete nationally and internationally in this global economy, it is essential that we invest responsibly in our community colleges and universities and other critical infrastructure needs across the state.
One of the most important reasons this bond enjoys such broad bi-partisan support is because the state will be able to expend these bond funds without having to raise taxes one cent. With our state’s outstanding AAA Bond Rating and historically low interest rates, the time is now to make this important investment in our state’s future.
I encourage all of you to learn more about the Connect NC Bond Initiative, consider the tremendous positive impact it will have on our state, and vote “Yes” on the bond referendum on March 15.
Jeff A. Cox, Ed.D.
Wilkes Community College