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$330,000 grant to expand distance education at community college

A major grant from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Office will help Beaufort County Community College expand its distance learning options for students in the farthest reaches of its four-county service area.

The grant, which weighs in at nearly $330,000, will allow BCCC to provide remote courses at Beaufort County’s private schools — Pungo Christian Academy, Terra Ceia Christian Academy and Unity Christian Academy — for the first time, and will also expand existing services at Northside High School, Southside High School and Ocracoke School.

The college currently has broadcast capabilities at Columbia Early College High School, Northside High School, Ocracoke School, Mattamuskeet Early College High School, Washington County Early College High School and Washington High School. In 2019, USDA awarded $82,000 to BCCC to outfit its Hyde County Davis Center in Engelhard and the Washington County Center in Roper with telecommunication equipment for broadcast classes. These centers are focused on workforce training, small business workshops and personal enrichment classes for community members.

By taking dual-enrollment classes, high school students can get a head start on college while still living at home, helping bring down costs and making a bachelor’s degree attainable to students who otherwise could not afford a four-year education. Many high school students who take college classes also find that taking college classes with an age-diverse class requires a higher degree of responsibility and maturity, traits that also carry over into their rest of their lives.

“We have all had to learn new technologies with our current safety protocols, but our college has been engaged with distance learning for over 20 years,” said Dr. David Loope, BCCC president. “It’s the best way to bring college within reach of the rural communities we serve. The world is moving fast, and we must ensure that physical distance does not prohibit our students from succeeding academically and economically.”

OPERATIONS CENTER: Samantha New, the NC Information Highway Facilitator at BCCC, shows the controls she uses to connect instructors and students remotely. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

For both BCCC and the USDA, the current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the issue of rural internet access and the challenges of distance education. According to USDA Rural Development Office State Director Robert Hosford, the goal is to ensure that children in rural areas of the state have the same access to broadband and technology that his child does living in Wake County.

“We always knew that urban-rural divide in technology existed,” Hosford said. “It’s just become punctuated, as of March 18 this year. The way we’re addressing it is through our reconnect program. Congress gave us $1.6 billion to deploy in rural communities around the country. Mainly, we’re working telephone and electric membership corporations, because they already have the infrastructure to put the infrastructure in the ground. We’re hopeful that Congress will come back in the next session and fund this again.”

To learn more about the distance learning courses available at Beaufort County Community College, visit www.beaufortccc.edu.