In 2016, the average median household income for Wilkes, Ashe, and Alleghany counties was $36,853, with an average poverty rate of 19.9%. In comparison, the North Carolina median household income was $48,256 with a 16.8% poverty rate, and the U.S. median household income was $55,322 with a 15.1% poverty rate. This 3-county region has undeniable economic challenges. A critical ingredient to changing this somber picture is high-quality, accessible educational opportunity. Wilkes Community College is stepping up to the challenge to do their part.

“We are engaging in a comprehensive strategic planning process for Wilkes Community College. The coming months represent an opportunity to reflect and plan for what we can do to become the strongest possible educational institution for the communities, economies, students, and families of Ashe, Alleghany, and Wilkes,” stated Dr. Jeff Cox, president of Wilkes Community College. To kick-off the process, guest speaker Dr. Robert Templin, Jr. of The Aspen Institute, addressed the faculty and staff at a luncheon held on Tuesday, February 6, 2018.

President Dr. Jeff Cox is a member of the Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence. He is one of 40 Aspen Fellows that were selected across the country through a rigorous process that considered their abilities to take strategic risks, lead strong teams, cultivate partnerships, and focus on results-oriented improvements for greater student success and access.

When invited to participate in the Aspen Presidential Fellowship program in 2017, Dr. Cox stated, “I am excited to have the opportunity to participate in this Aspen Presidential Fellowship program. When I first learned about the program, I thought the work they were doing aligned exactly with the strategic planning process I was wanting to do with Wilkes Community College over the next year. This program will allow us to learn from and partner with some of the greatest minds in community college leadership across the country.”

The strategic planning process was first initiated by Wilkes Community College through a planning grant received from the John M. Belk Endowment in 2017. Through the grant, WCC leadership began to engage a number of community stakeholders in a broad conversation about the need to address the lack of economic mobility of the economically challenged segment of our population in Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany. This initiative is being carried forward in 2018 through funding support from the Leonard G. Herring Family Foundation. “We are committed to do whatever we can as a college to help people who are born in poverty to work toward a better life where they can earn a living wage that can support a family,” stated Dr. Jeff Cox, president of WCC.

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues.