Helping Students Climb the Ladder to Economic Mobility
Wake Technical Community College is fortunate to serve one of the fastest-growing and most vibrant areas of the United States. Situated in metro Raleigh, North Carolina and the surrounding area, we like to say, “Wake County runs on Wake Tech.” We sit at the heart of the Research Triangle region, which is one of the country’s most dynamic magnets for economic opportunity. The Raleigh Chamber tells us Wake County’s population is growing by 67 people every day, with many new residents attracted by our array of career opportunities, top-notch education and quality of life.
But Wake County has a second story to tell, and it is one of a broken ladder. The amazing opportunities in the Research Triangle may be a powerful talent magnet, but those same opportunities are not reaching children who grow up in the county’s lower socioeconomic areas and have difficulty climbing the talent ladder up to economic mobility.
To meet this challenge, we are working to strategically position Wake Tech as our region’s ladder college. We are surrounded by other colleges and universities that play a large role in pulling people into Wake County; Wake Tech’s potential is to play the predominant role in pulling people up. An important part of how we build that ladder relies on strategically reimagining our student affairs supports for students.
The underlying premise is simple to say and complex to execute at a large college. We want to make sure every student at Wake Tech knows who has their back. We are working to build a system where every student knows their advisor, and every advisor knows their students. We’ve realigned our wide array of degrees, diplomas and certificates and organized them into thirteen career fields that represent the major areas of economic opportunities in Wake County.
As students enter our institution, they are assigned to a Care Team comprised primarily of an advisor and a success coach. Care is an acronym for Connections, Advising, Resources and Engagement, but what we want students, faculty and staff to remember is the culture of care. Care Teams create integrated support for students across their journey at the college by fostering connected support and, when needed, a warm hand-off with areas such as financial aid, career services and tutoring.
One of those key supports is also one of our signature strategic changes, and that is creating the Care Center as a companion to Care Teams. The Care Center is a central home for wraparound supports for students that include mental health counselors, emergency aid, student money management, childcare assistance requests, transportation assistance, food assistance and technology assistance, as well as the home for special service programs to support student groups such as those aging out of the foster care system. Success coaches within each Care Team serve as the connection point between Care Teams and the Care Center. The center provides an on-campus and online location for faculty and staff referrals for basic needs and wraparound supports and creates a clear emphasis on the importance of a culture of care on campus.
Our goal for these comprehensive supports is to ensure students are connected to these resources as a regular part of their student experience at Wake Tech. We know a key part of helping students working to climb the ladder to economic success in Wake County is to ensure these supports are unavoidable and normalized in their use. As higher education researcher Dr. Melinda Karp has noted, we are working to create a holistic approach at scale with SSIPP design principles—Strategic, Sustained, Integrated, Proactive and Personalized.
Wake Tech is uniquely poised to serve Wake County and its 1.1 million residents and address the region’s economic mobility challenge. We see ourselves as the nation’s most comprehensive opportunity college to climb the economic mobility ladder, due to the comprehensive range of nondegree and degree programs and the many ladder rungs we offer: high school dual enrollment; basic skills and adult education; stackable certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees with strategic employer and university partnerships; work-based learning and apprenticeships.
Key to achieving these goals are our outstanding student affairs teams and the system of support they wrap around our students. Our strategic goals are focused on supports that are personal, coordinated, and comprehensive to help guide students up the ladder. This ecosystem of ladder economics is critical to the individual student for their personal opportunity and to the economic development and growth of the fantastic region we call home.
 Karp, Melinda. “Putting SSIPP into Practice at Scale: Questions to Ask as You Build Campus Systems for Holistic Student Support.” Phase Two Advisory, 2021.
Author Perspective: Administrator
Author Perspective: Community College