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Rouse touts 'transformative' power of education to chamber office

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Lawrence Rouse, Pitt Community College President speaks at the Chamber of Commerce Luncheon at the Hilton, Tuesday afternoon.

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Education equals empowerment and Pitt Community College’s fifth president said, and it’s his goal to ensure programs are in place to provide the skills needed in a rapidly changing workforce.

Lawrence Rouse, who also is the community college’s first African-American president, spoke with more than 100 business leaders during the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Power Luncheon on Tuesday.

Rouse marked his 56th day with the college on Tuesday by sharing data about the effect PCC is currently having in the lives of its students and the community.

This year Pitt Community College provided updated skills training to 750 employees  working in more than a half-dozen companies ranging from Mayne Pharmaceutical to Weyerhaeuser, Rouse said.

When asked what he believes his greatest challenge will be, Rouse said it was figuring out the next place to go in responding to workforce needs. He compared it to the need to see beyond the horizon.

“Whatever it is, it will come along quickly,” Rouse said.

He recently attended a meeting in Edgecombe County about Triangle Tyre Co., which plans to open a tire manufacturing plant outside Rocky Mount starting in 2019. Rouse said once fully operational, the facility will employ 1,300 people from across eastern North Carolina, which means PCC and other local schools will work with Edgecombe Community College to provide the training.

Rouse said he long has believed in the transformative powers of higher education.

“I attended college with one goal, to help my community,” Rouse, a South Carolina native, said. He wanted to be a social worker and early in his career he was a social services coordinator and then worked in a job placement program. In that position, Rouse said he started seeing the difference the local community college made in people’s lives, transforming the dependent to independent and the disenfranchised to the empowered.

“After witnessing the transformative power of the community college I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” Rouse said.

Rouse said he was fortunate to meet Dallas Herring, the man described as the father of the state’s community college system, shortly after he arrived at James Sprunt Community College in Duplin County.

Rouse shared a quote from Herring, saying the ideals reflected in a speech delivered to the General Assembly in 1966 remain central to the community college system’s mission; “The only valid philosophy for North Carolina in the philosophy of total education.”

Herring, Rouse said, believed all North Carolinians deserve equal access to education and the state needed to develop the talents of its citizens “to the fullest possible degree.”

“We must take people as they are and carrying them as far as they can go,” Rouse said, quoting Herring.

Citing a study released earlier this year about the college’s economic effect in the community, Rouse said individuals earned 34 percent more in wages and salaries two years after they attended PCC than in the years prior to enrolling. For every dollar a student spends, they will earn a 20 percent rate of return, he said.

The school had 19,631 students enrolled in curriculum and continuing education programs during the 2017-18 school year and 1,874 students graduated this spring.

In response to a later question about current enrollment, PCC Vice President for Student Development Services Johnny Smith said this fall’s curriculum enrollment is 8,500, which he described as a continuation of recent enrollment trends. The number will change because students still are signing up for late enrollment classes, he said.

Rouse also talked about the partnerships PCC has with the public school system and East Carolina University.

High school students can take PCC classes, applying the credit to their later college degree program. It also helps students define their career goals.

The college also partners with ECU to offer students joint enrollment in both schools.

“We must all collaborate for the benefit of our students and the community,” Rouse said.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.

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