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Viewpoint: Two-year colleges make a difference for people and business

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Back when I started working for a community college in 1985, two-year institutions were often overshadowed by four-year colleges in the media and in the minds of many Americans. Since that time, two-year colleges have proved that they are critical in meeting workforce needs and thus helping the communities they serve attract business and industry.

These results have helped Americans realize that two-year colleges play a very important role in giving students strong work skills, partnering with employers to create innovative answers to hiring needs, and working with four-year colleges to help students reach their goals.

Still, there are some people who don’t know that out of all the college students in America, 41% are studying on a two-year college campus. Of those students, a third are the first in their families to attend college, 15% are single parents, 8% have already earned a bachelor’s degree, and 5% are veterans. These are all people who benefit from the affordability, flexibility, and relevance of a two-year college education and who are finding a path to economic success on our campuses.

According to Greenville Technical College’s most recent economic impact study, our graduates are earning 40% more than people who’ve completed only a high school diploma. Over the course of a career, this adds up to about $540,000 more in personal income. Our graduate placement rate is 87%, evidence that our programs are recognized by employers as excellent preparation for the jobs they need to fill. There’s a reason for that. Employers serve on our advisory boards, telling us what they want our courses to cover in order to deliver the graduates they are seeking.

We partner with local companies in other ways, too. When employers asked us to help them impact the skills gap in advanced manufacturing, we reimagined education for that sector at our Center for Manufacturing Innovation. When the downtown Greenville culinary and hospitality industry made their hiring needs apparent, we matched those requirements with upward mobility concerns for the citizens of West Greenville and made plans to open a facility next year that brings education for this sector to those who can benefit from it most.

Our new applied baccalaureate in advanced manufacturing technology is another example of working with employers to deliver the skills they require. Upstate companies voiced the need for higher level technical skills beyond what can be covered in a two-year degree.

Some of their existing employees with associate degrees can use these skills to advance, and for people entering college now, earning the four-year degree at the outset of their careers will mean less learning on the job, improved employment readiness, and the ability to qualify for positions involving technical and managerial leadership.

We sought permission to offer an applied bachelor’s degree and legislators responded, approving the idea and setting the stage for Gov. McMaster to sign a bill allowing this degree to move forward. We became the first technical college in the state to offer the degree this semester, giving employers the skills to succeed and students the knowledge to serve as living proof of the transformative power of a college education.

Of course, bachelor’s degrees are needed in many other sectors, too. That’s why we work closely with four-year colleges, recently signing agreements with Lander University and Southern New Hampshire University that bring our total number of transfer partnerships to 51, making the transition between our campuses and the four-year setting as smooth as possible. We’re accredited by the same organization as Clemson, University of South Carolina, Furman, USC Upstate, and nearly all of South Carolina’s four-year colleges, so moving from our campuses to the next step is simple and direct.

Keith Miller is president of Greenville Technical College.

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