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More than half of North Carolina community colleges experienced enrollment increases in fall 2021, the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges reported at a meeting Monday.

Over all, enrollment across the community college system rose 2 percent this past fall, with 33 out of 58 colleges reporting increases. While enrollment in traditional academic programs fell by 3 percent, enrollment in short-term workforce education grew by 22 percent. Enrollment in basic skills education also increased 40 percent.

The growth comes after community colleges across the country, including those in North Carolina, experienced enrollment drops during the height of the pandemic. Enrollment in the North Carolina Community College System fell about 11 percent in fall 2020.

“The surge shows the value of the Community College System,” Thomas Stith, president of the North Carolina Community College System, said in a press release. “We’re encouraged by the tremendous growth in workforce education programs. Our community colleges have always been a leader in workforce training and are proving once again we’re agile and able to meet our students where they are with the right resources and services to give them the tools to secure an in-demand, high-paying job.”

The North Carolina state Legislature and the governor approved a $1.46 billion appropriation to the community college system last year, the largest biennial budget allocation for the system in more than a decade.

Stith credits multiple factors for enrollment increases, including a marketing campaign, innovative leadership at the colleges and a recommitment to workforce and apprenticeship training.

“From top to bottom, our System is built to maximize partnerships at the state and local level,” he said in the release. “Business and industry needs are not the same across the state, and it takes our 58 colleges to customize programs to meet the demands of the labor market in each region.”