Over the past two years, Wilkes Community College has developed and begun implementing a strategic plan designed to improve the manner in which students are recruited, engaged in productive studies and offered a roadmap for employment after graduation.

Another aspect being addressed is how to keep students in college and improve graduation rates, and improve WCC’s overall service to the community.

Dr. Jeff Cox, WCC’s president, continues to be the driving force behind the effort, though WCC administrators, members of the board of trustees, faculty members and dedicated people from the community have been integrally involved.

The strategic plan is designed to find a way to direct students toward educational pathways that will result in jobs and careers that provide living wages.

Plenty of students are enrolling at WCC, but too many are leaving before completing a degree, Cox has pointed out.Jobs paying sustainable wages are available, but, more often than not, prospective workers are required to have degrees and specific training.

For example, the applied engineering technology curriculum at WCC offers degree work in CNC machining, computer engineering, electronics engineering, industrial systems, mechanical design and robotics automation and mechatronics.

All of these fields of study have bright futures for those willing to make necessary sacrifices and do the work. The beauty of community colleges is that instructors stand ready to teach, encourage and provide a wide range of support. I’ve found this to be particularly true at WCC.

Most traditional four-year universities, filled with thousands of students, aren’t as invested in individual student success. It’s far more of a sink or swim environment, requiring a great deal of self-motivation. The sheer number of students mandates this.

The need for trained individuals filling positions for companies—and economically improving their own communities—is one of the biggest challenges facing the nation. Millions of jobs are available from coast-to-coast for those with the proper training and education, as well as the desire to work hard.

When I was applying for college, the prevailing wisdom was that you needed to have an idea what course of study—also known as a “major”—you wanted to pursue on the day you walked through the door as a freshman.

Statistics at the time showed that those who were settled on a particular academic direction tended to finish on time and with a degree.

The thinking was that more uncertain students tended to drift a bit, not be as focused and, logically, be delayed in entering the workforce.

Either way, it was necessary, at some point, for students to put their noses to the grindstone and get to work. You did the work or out the door you went, with your slot being filled by someone who actually wanted to be there.

Cox maintains that WCC can get to a 50 percent graduation rate with its courses of study.

He thinks students, beginning in high school, should be well-counseled on potential careers and beneficial educational pathways. Get a student’s attention and interest, and that same student will have a better shot at life.

Staying in school, working hard and making smart career moves is still the consistent method of getting ahead.

I think the generation coming up needs more awareness of career opportunities. The American dream of upward mobility and financial security hasn’t been revoked.

It is still available to all. But it takes more than just hard work. As with the success of an institution, the success of an individual in life requires foresight and strategy.

Money is out there to be made. People just need to be pointed in the right direction and be given the skills to achieve success.

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