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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William Dallas Herring, February 14, 1987. Interview C-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Local demand should drive education policy

Herring believes that the key to a sound education policy in North Carolina is gauging the demand of North Carolinians. The community college system, he believes, responds to that demand. Community colleges answer the need for an alternative, less expensive way to gain a useful education.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William Dallas Herring, February 14, 1987. Interview C-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I wanted to ask you, briefly, about higher education in the state. You, of course, have been almost as involved in that as you have been in the community colleges and public schools. We have fifteen public senior institutions, fifty-eight community colleges, thirty odd private instituitons. Some people think that that's too many institutions for a state of our size. But, of course, both of us know it's almost impossible to close or merge an institution for political reasons. In general what do you think about the state of higher education in that context?
Well, I've always tried to approach it in this way. I had a major in English and a major in economics at Davidson. The only thing I learned in economics that stayed with me was that you begin with the demand. That's what makes the economy tick. You don't just manufacture something and go out and try to sell it. You determine whether there's a demand for a product and then you sell it to them if you find that there is. It seems to be a logical beginning place in assessing what our needs are in higher education. What is the demand for education beyond the high school in the state? I've touched on it in what I've said to you today—especially in reference to the community college level. I also have mentioned it in terms of the demand of the people in the Charlotte area and the Asheville and Wilmington areas which were neglected before. The people, who are rooted there in business and institutions, professionals that need quality professional training and cannot quit and go to Chapel Hill and Greensboro to get it. So that's point number one. The demand that we have today is substanially the same type of demand, maybe varying in proprotion here and there, that existed from the beginning. The state's response to it is different. The state said, for example, prior to '54, that the black children can't get in these schools. No matter what your talents are, what your needs are, what your desire for the future may be, you cannot get in the School of Medicine, the School of Dentistry, the School of Pharmacy, the Humanities Program, or whatever. We'll build a separate school for you and because you're not up to our standards, we'll make concessions about these special schools. The standards don't have to be as high for admission. You remember, no doubt, when the president of Fayetteville State told the legislature, "We admit illiterates, and we graduate illiterates." You remember that statement way back then. He was telling the truth. He had the candor to get up there and tell it the way it was. Well, my point is this. As I understand the demand, we have the same spread that we always had—the spread in variety of educational demand and the degree of ability to achieve. But we have introduced the community college system as an alternative way, a less expensive way, to get the remedial education, preparatory education. If it takes you ten years to get two years of college education, you can get it at the community colleges, and no strings, no prohibitions. The point is that you get it, prepare yourself for further progress. In too many of the Negro institutions what we do today is we pretend that you have gotten it in the confines of the traditional two years of academic work. We give you a diploma that is a deception in the vast majority of cases, I think. At least the examination scores tend to show that that is true in the profession of education and probably true in every other. Well, my point is if we begin with the educational demand that we have and the changed response to it, we have given an alternative way. There's no longer any need for Fayetteville State to be a community college. It should get out of the community college business. If it wants to be a university, let us make it a university, in truth as well as in name. And that is true for East Carolina which has already answered the question in my opinion. They have moved in that direction. Leo Jenkins had a superb ability to influence state policy about it. His persistence ruffled a lot of feathers but he got it done and moved it out of a little teachers' training college to what is on the way to becoming a genuine university. Now we have Wilmington and Asheville with a long way to go to achieve that status but they're on the way. Charlotte, I'm sure—I haven't been there in years—but I know it must be far ahead of them.