A 2020 Vision: The Future of Economic and Workforce Development in South Carolina

February 27, 2020

Takeaways

The bottom line is that the community college system must serve a large range of needs.
Employers are working with higher education to align what is taught in the classroom with the needs of the economy.

When someone has 20/20 vision, what they see at 20 feet is what should typically be seen at that distance. But as we all know, not everyone has 20/20 vision, which means everyone views what lies ahead of them differently. 

Nancy Lee Sánchez, Executive Director of the Kaplan Educational Foundation, recently examined the important purpose community colleges serve in the future of workforce development. A key point made is “community colleges are defined differently by those who enroll in them”, in other words, people view community colleges as a pathway towards different goals. Some enroll with the long-term goal of enrolling in a four-year university, others as a way to acquire professional certifications to enhance their breadth of knowledge and skills.

The bottom line is that the system must serve a large range of needs.

By the end of 2020, a new branch of one of South Carolina’s well-known community colleges, Trident Technical College (TTC), will be established in Summerville, SC, located in Dorchester County. Announced in 2019, TTC hopes to open the doors to its Dorchester County Campus by the time fall 2020 classes start. 

TTC’s campuses are primarily located in Charleston, SC, however the student body spreads throughout multiple neighboring areas. According to Charleston-based newspaper The Post & Courier, “more than 20 percent of Trident’s 12,148 students” are located in Dorchester County. This means roughly 2,700 students have to commute across counties, going southeast from Dorchester County to Charleston County, to attend class. With this many students willing to travel so far, demonstrating their dedication to learning as they pursue their educational and professional goals, the county has advocated for a more conveniently located option. 

The Dorchester County Campus has been a work in progress since 2016. When looking at the area’s Strategic Direction, a strategy towards increased economic development was the creation of a new TTC campus. The institution would serve a number of purposes, one being the preparation of citizens for jobs, therefore increasing contributions to, and the success of, the area’s economy. In 2019, the TTC Area Commission approved $1.9 million to fund the campus, the first of many steps towards the economic and workforce development the county has strived to cultivate.

Course offerings at the technical college will range from general education, such as history and English, to STEM courses, such as cybersecurity, computer programming, and health sciences, to an HVAC program, which will enhance the knowledge and skills of students who are already a part of or hoping to pursue work in the area’s primary industries

Dorchester County Economic Development (DCED) staff have been supportive of the new TTC campus and are excited for construction to start in the coming months. When contacted about the new development, DCED’s Director, John Truluck, explained that “The most in-demand jobs in our region require a 2-year degree or technical certificate” and until now Dorchester was “the largest county in the state without a technical college campus”, emphasizing the need for technical education opportunities in the area. 

A recent study conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Hiring in the Modern Talent Marketplace, further highlights the significance of such educational opportunities. After surveying hundreds of hiring managers, the study results showed businesses are most commonly partnered with community education institutions to bridge skills gaps. Before long, Dorchester County businesses will have a community education partner to engage with in order to continually support their workforces’ skills development. 

Even more important is the improved access to education students will receive. For many workers who are contemplating whether or not to pursue education while working, in hopes of upskilling for their current job or investing in knowledge or certification for a future job, access and convenience are influential factors when making this decision. 

Truluck echoed this idea saying that “removing the transportation barrier and providing easier access to higher education will increase [enrollment] numbers significantly”. With the development of TTC’s Dorchester County Campus, educational opportunities will soon be found just around the corner for both traditional and working students living in the area. 

The execution of what DCED considers a “transformative” part of the county’s economic and workforce development endeavors will come to fruition by the end of this year. This strategy is a perfect representation of how communities across the country, no matter their size or scope, can, and should, invest in local resources to address their workforce needs. 

Now, Dorchester County can look back at the steps it took to get here and apply any lessons learned to future economic and workforce projects in order to build on their success. To prepare for the future, one must occasionally consult the past. Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20.