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Opinion

Opinion

Community college role grows

October 11, 2010

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Often leaders who care the most and reach for the stars, overlook the possibilities they have in front of them.

For too many years, well-intentioned leaders from business and industry and education have underestimated the potential might of the community college.

Without question, that is changing, permitting the two- year institution to flex its muscle in the battle for global economic supremacy. The end product, young men and women ready for the world of work, is unassailable and recognized as such by the competition everywhere.

I offer a recent and dramatic example:

In Charleston, S.C., Trident Technical College was undoubtedly one of the determinants in luring a massive Boeing assembly plant operation for its new aircraft, the 787.

Perhaps the most significant announcement in state history, the Boeing development means nearly 4,000 jobs and untold millions of dollars for new construction. The construction industry is revived and well-based optimism is everywhere, as the plant is scheduled to roll off its first 787 in early 2012. And there is a long list of orders, more than 800.

Trident is a public, two-year, multi-campus institution that provides recognized educational innovation and promotes economic development. Specifically, it has some 16,000 students and ranks as the third largest institution of higher learning in the state.

Its students come primarily from three counties (Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester) with a total population approaching two million people. People wanting to work are everywhere in the Palmetto State.

Students enroll in some 150 academic programs of study, leading to associate degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Among the areas are aeronautical studies, business technology, culinary and hospitality, developmental studies, humanities and social sciences, industrial and engineering technology, nursing and health care, and science and mathematics.

Those pursuing four-year degrees — and more than half do — are welcomed in large numbers at the University of South Carolina, the state’s flagship institution, and Clemson, the land-grant university. “Few question the worth of our student body, “says Mary Thornley, who has headed Trident Technical College for two decades. “Our students understand what it takes to be employable in today’s difficult setting.”

She likes to point out that less than 18 percent of her operational budget of approximately $77 million comes from the state of South Carolina. Clearly, the college is a growing industry itself.

As a graduate of a community college in southwest Nebraska, I believe Trident is a national model for success for millions of young people in the decade ahead. I further conclude that South Carolina would be better served if Trident doubled in size in the next five years. Few entities could add more relief to the strained tax base.

Most important to students is low cost and employability. Especially in tough economic times, keeping tuition low is appealing to large numbers of prospective students. Trident offers what more and more businesses need now and in the immediate future — modern skill sets.

— Gene A. Budig is a distinguished professor at the College Board in New York City and a former president/chancellor of three major state universities. He also is past president of Major League Baseball’s American League.

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