All six leaders of Winston-Salem’s higher education institutions shared the stage for the first time at the Inaugural State of Education event. While it was their first public roundtable, all six agreed that it was not the first time they had worked together in various ways on efforts to improve their institutions and collaborate with the community.

More than 200 guests came to the Benton Convention Center to hear from the community’s higher education leaders (pictured below left-right): Dr. Charles Petitt, President of Piedmont International University, Dr. Elwood Robinson, Chancellor of Winston-Salem State University, Dr. Janet Spriggs, President of Forsyth Tech, Dr. Sandra Doran, Interim President of Salem Academy and College, Brian Cole, Interim Chancellor of UNC School of the Arts, and Dr. Nathan Hatch, President of Wake Forest University.

Higher education leaders Winston Salem

Micah Brown Photography

In economic development, many communities are facing what’s being called the “Talent Wars”, driven by lower than average unemployment, where people are a more valuable currency to site selectors than location. Mark Owens, President and CEO of the Winston Salem Chamber, says that makes the higher education discussion a timely topic. “Workforce development, talent recruitment and retention, and technical trades programs are perhaps more important than ever before,” says Owens.  “Our institutions of higher education are on the front lines of developing, recruiting, and retaining talented people that are equipped for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Winston-Salem and Forsyth County benefit from a truly unique higher education landscape comprised of premier institutions each with a diverse focus. We have the only public arts conservatory and the oldest women’s educational institution in the U.S., a tier-one research university, a faith-based institution, an HBCU, and a leading technical college that serve more than 27,000 students per year combined.

The discussion focused on the institutions’ ability to develop and attract talent and align workforce needs. A common theme throughout the roundtable was how the institutions work with each other and local employers to create a bigger impact together.

Collaborations include dual-enrollment degrees, work-based learning programs, shared learning facilities, and degree tracks developed in partnership with local employers. For example, Forsyth Tech and Winston-Salem State University offer degree tracks in biology and nursing allowing students to receive an associate’s degree at Forsyth Tech and then enter WSSU as a junior in a bachelor’s program. Another recent collaboration is the criminal justice degree offered at Piedmont International University, which was developed in partnership with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.

State of Education roundtable

State of Education, September 4, 2019, Micah Brown Photography

When asked in what ways they would like to see the business community and educational institutions work together, the leaders emphasized entrepreneurial coaching and programming, mentorship, and internship opportunities. They also said they would like to see the community come together to ensure that all students have equitable access to higher education.

The leaders agreed that the future is bright in Winston-Salem – with students who are excited to come here to learn and many who decide to stay in our community long-term after graduation. The economic impact of our higher education institutions and the graduates they generate have a profound impact on our future. When the community learns together and applies their efforts to student success from every angle, we can become an even stronger force for talent as we grow.

Special thanks to our State of Education Supporting Sponsor, Bank of America