By Gary M. Green
President, Forsyth Technical Community College
WINSTON-SALEM – In 2008, North Carolina, and the entire country, entered the most difficult economic period since the Great Depression. The colleges of the North Carolina Community College System were called upon to step up to the challenge — to stretch their capacity, to provide training for the yet-to-be-defined jobs of an uncertain future, and to expand opportunities for further higher education. And the colleges would undertake this work under the direction of a new leader, Dr. Scott Ralls.
Last week, Ralls announced he will leave North Carolina to accept the presidency at Northern Virginia Community College, one the nation’s largest and most respected community colleges. With his departure, North Carolina has lost a visionary advocate for access to higher education, for student success, and for developing the highly skilled workforce essential to the state’s future.
Under his SuccessNC initiatives, the gap between high school and college has been closed with the statewide expansion of dual enrollment programs, including highly successful Early College programs. Academically capable students are graduating from high school with a diploma and a community college associate degree, jump-starting their college careers, benefiting North Carolina families and taxpayers.
Under Ralls’ leadership, the NCCCS has come to recognize that there is no single measure of talent and ability, and has become a national leader in implementing multiple measures of entering student capabilities. Those who do enter unprepared for college work have also been served with a redesign of developmental education. Fewer students need remediation, and those who do are completing it more quickly.
In the depths of the recession, Ralls ensured that the NCCCS was there when plants closed or reduced employment or when businesses shut their doors, bringing hope to affected workers through their local community colleges. As the recovery has picked up steam, he has led efforts to address the skills gap between the legacy skills of workers and the more advanced technical skills required today.
A recently completed comprehensive agreement between NCCCS and the University of North Carolina System will ease student transfers and contribute to increased completion of college degrees in North Carolina – another example of Ralls’ legacy.
The past seven years have been fraught with enormous economic challenges for the state and its community colleges. State revenues and state support for colleges declined at a time of unprecedented growth. At a time when employers lament the lack of skilled talent, the salaries for those creating the talent have remained near the bottom among Southern states and the technology needed to develop up-to-date skills is often lacking.
Since 2008, Dr. Scott Ralls has been a tireless advocate for overcoming these challenges. He has articulated a transformative vision for North Carolina’s community colleges and has worked ceaselessly with community college leaders and trustees and with state policymakers to make it happen. He will be missed.