By Todd Cohen
RALEIGH, N.C. — Fueled in part by the region’s economic boom, and more recently by the economic downturn, the number of students enrolled in academic or continuing-education classes at Wake Technical Community College has surged to 64,000 from 35,000 over the past 10 years.
As a result, the school for each of the past four semesters has not been able to meet demand from roughly 6,000 people who each wanted to enroll in 2.5 classes on average.
“Unmet demand is already here,” says Stephen Scott, who has served as president of the school since October 2003.
To meet rising growth in demand, the Wake Tech Foundation has launched the quiet phase of a campaign to raise $10 million to support student scholarships and programs, professional development for faculty and staff, and equipment and technology for classrooms and campuses.
The campaign already has raised $1.5 million in a silent phase that began in July 2011, and will kick off its public phase in January 2013, says Virginia Parker, director of strategic partnerships for the foundation.
The campaign, which aims to conclude by the end of 2013, represents “the first significant outreach to the community to enable them to invest in their community college,” Parker says.
Operating with an annual budget of $100 million, 83 percent of it from the state and 17 percent from Wake County, the school also receives $50 million in federal loans and Pell grants for students.
Over the course of a year, roughly 25,000 students are enrolled in academic programs at Wake Tech, with another 40,000 enrolled in continuing-education programs.
Continuing-education students include 8,000 pursuing work at the high-school level or below; 8,000 in police, fire, emergency-medical, corrections or other public-safety programs; and 24,000 in short courses, mainly designed to help them keep or get a job.
The greatest continuing-education demand for the past 10 years has been for information-technology classes, particularly from students needing certification for licenses for software from companies like Cisco, Microsoft and Red Hat, Scott says.
Wake Tech also provides training for about 3,000 students through contracts with their employers, a program that has seen a lot of demand, particularly from biotech companies, since the economy collapsed in September 2008.
The school also provided start-up training in 2009 for the staff of Raleigh’s new convention center, and for a range of hospitality-industry employers in the months leading up to the National Hockey League all-star game held in Raleigh in January 2011.
Roughly half the students in Wake Tech’s academic programs, an enrollment that has doubled over the past 10 years, are enrolled in technical programs such as welding, plumbing, electricity, information technology, culinary arts, and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning.
Roughly 25 percent of all students who enroll at Wake Tech already have a bachelor’s degree or higher, including 3,000 who enroll in academic programs and 12,000 who enroll in continuing-education programs.
The school is on track to serve 80,000 students by 2016, Scott says.
Parker says the foundation’s target is for over half of the campaign’s gifts go to the school’s endowment, which now totals $1 million.
Individuals account for less than 10 percent of the $2 million the school generates in annual giving, which is divided evenly between cash and in-kind support, most of it from corporations, and those patterns are likely to reflect giving to the campaign, Parker says.
The school, she says, plays a critical role in “economic growth, a prepared workforce with the right skills, and productive, contributing graduates.
“When they stay here and graduate and have skills to get a job,” she says, “they will contribute to the community and help strengthen our economy, which helps improve our quality of life.”