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The Community College as Change Agent

Community colleges serve a unique purpose in American higher education. For many students, these institutions present the best opportunity for the postsecondary credential needed to pursue a living-wage job with career potential. For others, a community college represents the gateway to a four-year institution or beyond, and potential career paths in an even wider array of disciplines.

But the role of community colleges, particularly in rural areas, extends beyond the academic. Rural community colleges are often the only postsecondary institution in their community, and in that role they serve as a workforce trainer, leading employer, community convener, cultural ambassador, and change agent. In each of these capacities, community colleges are positioned to make significant contributions to the overall improvement of the community’s health.

The six colleges that serve the counties currently in the Healthy Places North Carolina Initiative (HPNC) sponsored by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust all play these roles—and more. With support from the Trust, MDC, which has nearly 50 years of experience working with community colleges, conducted research and analysis of the six colleges’ current and potential role in improving health outcomes and influencing healthy behaviors in the communities they serve.