Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Gov. Pat McCrory announced Thursday that he wants legislators to allow North Carolina’s 58 community colleges to retain and repurpose money they have saved to train more students in high-demand fields so their region’s employers can hire for hard-to-fill positions.

McCrory said he’ll ask the General Assembly later this spring in his budget proposal to let the North Carolina Community College System use $16.8 million for the “Closing the Skills Gap” initiative. Campus leaders would get to decide how to spend the money to beef up departments that contain targeted fields, such as through buying equipment or increasing instructor salaries.

The effort is designed to focus upon dozens of occupations that may only need a two-year degree or certificate training, including truck drivers, engineering and biotechnology technicians and health sciences.

McCrory said the effort is another way his administration is attempting to better link all levels of education to the needs of local industries.

The money to carry out the initiative would come from $18 million the system has saved by doing a more efficient job offering high-school level curriculum to incoming students who haven’t mastered requisite skills to succeed in higher education. Many classes are now designed to focus on a student’s specific instructional weaknesses, which requires less time in the classroom than a full-semester course, McCrory’s office said.

“Many businesses tell us that we need more graduates in certain degrees and certain specialties, and we need to reward our schools for doing just that,” the governor said in an interview. McCrory announced Thursday’s proposal at Hickory at Catawba Valley Community College accompanied by state system President Scott Ralls and Catawba Valley’s president.

The initiative “will allow our colleges to be more responsive by providing increased flexibility to address the needs of business and industry by funding high-cost, credential-focused programs that are integral to ensuring North Carolina has a skilled workforce,” Ralls said in a release from McCrory’s office.

The governor also envisions the initiative as advantageous to recruiting businesses to build in North Carolina or expand by showing the state is serious about filling skilled positions of employers.

McCrory will present the request when he asks lawmakers to adjust the second year of the two-year budget approved last year. The second year, which begins July 1, already provides $1 billion to operate the community college system.

In a table provided by McCrory’s office, nearly all campuses would receive at least $100,000 next year under the initiative, with the amounts increasing to more than $800,000 for the largest urban campuses.

McCrory said he wants similar initiatives used at University of North Carolina System campuses so that money is funneled more to majors that students are using to get jobs in the field. The legislature passed a law last year sought by McCrory that directed K-12 education to better prepare high school students for vocational careers.