Op-Ed – A strong partnership: The future of education in Dare County

For decades, College of The Albemarle (COA) and Dare County have enjoyed a productive partnership, fostering educational growth and development in our community. This longstanding relationship has been mutually beneficial, leading to significant increases in both student enrollment and funding. As we look to the future, the proposed early college initiative represents a natural and exciting progression of this collaboration, poised to bring even greater opportunities to our students and community.

First and foremost, I want to express my deep appreciation for the support and enthusiasm surrounding the early college initiative. This innovative approach promises to provide high school students with the unique opportunity to earn college credits, giving them a head start on their higher education journey and preparing them for successful careers. The early college model aligns perfectly with COA’s mission to offer accessible, high-quality education and to support the educational aspirations of our community.

To this point in the process, COA has stayed on the sidelines of the discussions regarding forming an early college in Dare County. We believe in the power of early colleges, but every community must decide what they want and whether an early college is a community fit. We have always tried to serve the County in any way we can, and we were content to let the Board of Education determine the direction they deemed appropriate. As I have monitored the various articles, meetings, and public statements, I am compelled to address one persistent statement I have read, heard, and been asked about. Some public comments have suggested that the early college is necessary because COA’s enrollment in Dare County is struggling and failing to live up to expectations that came with a new campus. However, the data tell a different story. Our partnership with Dare County has led to remarkable growth in the last few years. Whether we examine curriculum student headcounts or Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) funding, COA – Dare has experienced consistent and significant increases.

Dual enrolled students primarily take curriculum level courses, and COA – Dare is projected to experience growth in this area from Fall 2023 to Fall 2024. (Numbers for Fall 2024 are estimates at this point as there are still several weeks left for students to enroll and potentially show even more of an increase.) Regardless of when they graduated or where they currently reside, Dare County Schools’ graduates enrolling at COA are expected to rise 4.9% from Fall 2023 to Fall 2024. Similarly, regardless of which campus they take their classes, Dare County residents enrolling at COA are projected to have 2.6% growth in the same timeframe. More noteworthy, enrollment of students taking classes specifically at the COA – Dare location, regardless of county of residence, is estimated to jump 21.3% during this time. Looking a little more long term, Dare County residents enrolling at COA are expected to increase 14.7% in Fall 2024 compared to Fall 2019 – the last semester before the impact of COVID.

Curriculum FTE funding has increased at COA – Dare as well. From Fall 2023 final numbers to Fall 2024 estimates, the Dare campus is projected to see an astounding increase of 26.8%.  Even more striking, final curriculum FTE numbers from the 2023-24 reporting year constitute an incredible 61% growth in Dare since 2019-20. This level of growth is even more amazing when considering that the entire North Carolina Community College System saw a 0.5% decrease in curriculum FTE funding during this same time frame.

The relationship between COA and Dare County is stronger and more prosperous than ever, leading to considerable growth in both the number of students and the funding attributed to COA – Dare. The establishment of an early college is not a response to enrollment challenges but a proactive step to build on our successes and provide even more opportunities for our students.

We are committed to continuing this trajectory of growth and excellence. The early college initiative will further solidify our partnership with Dare County, ensuring that our students have access to the best possible educational opportunities. Together, we can look forward to a future where our community thrives and our students achieve their highest potential.

Thank you for your continued support and dedication to the future of education in Dare County.

Sincerely,

Dr. Jack Bagwell
President, College of The Albemarle

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