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Keeping a promise at Sandhills Community College

Sandhills Community College sneaks up on you.

You don’t expect it to be there, tucked in between countless golf resorts and lots of countryside. And when it appears just around a bend on Airport Road, you could be forgiven for confusing it with a university campus.

Its 150 acres contain a lush garden area, and its architecture style is not only consistent but in fantastic condition. Brick archways are a recurring theme. Pine trees abound.

Meyer Hall at SCC
Meyer Hall looms large as visitors enter the Sandhills Community College campus. Robert Kinlaw/EducationNC
A wooden canopy over an on-campus garden
A peek inside the Raleigh Gardens on SCC’s campus. Robert Kinlaw/EducationNC

Perhaps the beauty of the campus shouldn’t be surprising. Pinehurst is known for its wealth. The golfing destination is an attractive haven for retirees, often eager to escape the cold weather of states farther north. It stands to reason that community colleges situated in wealthy areas will have better amenities and significantly more resources than those who are not.

Yet, as one staff member reminded me, Moore County isn’t just Pinehurst. Some rural areas in the county are still stinging from the recession. The furniture and textile industries were especially devastated. And nearby Hoke County, which the college also serves, has a poverty rate of 19.5 percent compared to Moore’s 11.5 percent.

What happens when a community has the wealth it needs to boost its local community college students? In this case, the Sandhills Promise happened.

The Sandhills Promise Scholarship

The Sandhills Promise is a program that offers students from Moore and Hoke County free tuition for the first two years of enrollment after high school. They do have to meet a few requirements, though.

The program is offered for high school graduates taking curriculum classes and those in continuing education. The students need to take four dual-enrollment courses at SCC while in high school, maintaining at least a 2.0 GPA and a 67 percent completion rate along the way. Students also must apply for financial aid.

If the criteria are met, the college will cover any tuition that financial aid doesn’t. Dr. John Dempsey, president of SCC, told me the scholarship’s funding plan is based on community donations. That puts a big burden on the college’s Foundation, but it’s one that Dempsey believes has kept enrollment up even as the economy improves.

Jonathan Garrison, the college’s scholarship, work study, and Sandhills Promise coordinator, said that the Foundation already had the funds to kick start the program when it launched in 2016 thanks to smart money management.

“We had money in the coffers that we could run this program for two or three years,” Garrison said. “There’s not a lot of colleges that can say that. What they’re in the process of now is raising money to keep the program going as long as there’s a need, which is indefinitely.”

Sandhills Community College seems optimistic it can meet those needs. And the campus does foster a feeling of connection with the local community. On the library lawn, the college hosts jazz concerts and other live events for the community. Inside the library, there’s a sizable section stocked with books for local children.

Best of all, the staff tells me that people often come to the college to enjoy those resources. Getting more people on campus exposes more folks in the community to the college environment and fosters the unique connection SCC has with its surrounding neighbors.

Maybe that connection is the reason Dr. Dempsey has stuck around the college for 30 years — and counting.

Robert Kinlaw

Robert was director of multimedia for EducationNC. He is a journalist and award-winning documentary filmmaker in the Triangle. Robert attended both public and private grade schools in North Carolina and graduated from the Media and Journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has produced video content for The News & Observer, ABC11-WTVD, UNC-Chapel Hill, The News Reporter and more. His short documentary Princess Warrior received an Excellence in Filmmaking award at the 2017 Carrboro Film Festival. Visit his website at robertkinlaw.com.