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Report: support community colleges to build strong middle class

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RALEIGH – In a roundtable discussion, educators and experts meet at Wake Tech Community College's Main Campus to focus on the future.

A new report indicates the Tar Heel State must support its community colleges to build and keep a strong middle class.

The NC Justice Center and DEMOS, public policy research organizations, co-released the findings Monday to a group of educators, national experts and state leaders.

Their focus is on making community colleges more affordable for families.

“Universities and community colleges is key to our state's long term prosperity,” said Scott Ralls, the president of the North Carolina Community College System.

There are challenges for students to attend community colleges. A new report shows earnings have declined for young adults, higher education is more important than ever, but at the same time, getting that education is more expensive.

Experts said that combination will increase inequality .

“We're looking at the poor staying poor and the rich staying rich,” Lucy Mayo, with DEMOS, said.

In North Carolina, tuition costs are below the national average but have been increasing rapidly. From 1991 to 2009, tuition and fees at community colleges have increased by 74 percent. The report also shows in 2008 and 2009 they were still 44 percent below the national average.

“North Carolina has actually done a lot of good things in terms of investing in what we know works to encourage students to complete their post secondary education,” said Alexandra Sirota, a policy analyst for the NC Justice Center.

Analysts said there's still a lot of room to grow and there's many solutions to make that happen.

“Community colleges have become first choice for post secondary education,” Mayo said. “We call on the federal government to make certain tax credits permanent so that young people can access, call on the federal government to index the minimum wage to inflation.”

For educators, it's a continuing battle to balance access and opportunity.

Reports show that by 2018, 59 percent of the North Carolina workforce will require some type of post secondary education.

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