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Local partnerships are helping Southeastern Community College grow enrollment

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Southeastern Community College reported that its summer enrollment jumped by 45% last week. Dr. Chris English, president of Southeastern Community College, said it is local partnerships that have allowed the college to thrive and grow.

English said he, the two local superintendents, the county manager, and the hospital CEO meet on a monthly or bi-monthly basis to ensure they are working together. 

“What we’re doing is – instead of trying to address the challenges individually — now we’ll bring them together,” English said. 

According to a recent economic impact report, Southeastern Community College (SCC) supports more than 2,300 jobs in Columbus County. More than 800 of those jobs were in health care and government – making these partnerships especially meaningful for the community.

Prioritizing community health 

Because it is one of the county’s top employers, SCC saw the need for creating strong ties with the Columbus Regional Healthcare System. The Nursing & Healthcare Training department worked closely with the hospital to double the number of nursing students at the facility, allowing SCC to help alleviate the strains of the current nursing shortage. 

Southeastern Community College Associate Degree Nursing students complete a pediatric emergency simulation in the college’s simulation lab. Cheyenne McNeill/EducationNC

“I think it’s kind of reinvigorated everyone to look broader, and how we can have a greater impact and get things lined up for the future,” Jason Beck, president and CEO of Columbus Regional Healthcare System, said. 

Refocusing allowed Beck to approach SCC and request that the college institute a medical assistant program – a position in great need at the hospital. Columbus Regional Healthcare System also started offering students tuition upfront if they agree to work at the hospital for two years. This includes medical lab technicians, certified nurse aides, and other positions. Beck said having this sort of relationship with the college is instrumental in meeting the community’s needs. 

“More times than not, there’s going to be resources and new things to help facilitate what the need is. We just had to get creative and be committed to it and just make it happen,” Beck said. “I think it’s pretty seamless.”

Increasing interest in the trades through summer camp

This summer, SCC hosted summer camps that allowed Columbus County Schools students to gain firsthand experience in trades programs, like welding and construction, while earning college credit. 

High school students at SCC’s summer camp assist in constructing a storage shed for their school. Courtesy of Southeastern Community College

High school students throughout the county attended this summer camp during the day Monday through Thursday to simulate a typical work day. The camp lasted six weeks and concluded with a “graduation” ceremony to signify the completion of the program. 

“They spent their summer well engaged earning credits, and our industry partners poured into them,” Sylvia Cox, SCC executive vice president and chief academic officer, said. “Having the synergy of our college instructors working with our high school instructors was pretty incredible.” 

During the summer camp, students were able to construct storage sheds for each of their high schools and design and build cornhole boards. Now, Columbus County Schools and SCC are planning to continue the camp next summer and implement a similar after-school program. 

Taking education on the road

Columbus County is the third largest county in the state at 954 square miles, so traveling from one end of the county to the next can take 30 minutes or more. This means that Career and College Promise (CCP) students in local high schools may find it difficult to navigate to campus for classes. To alleviate this issue, SCC took its classrooms on the go with a mobile unit classroom. 

The trailer is equipped with technology and supplies for HVAC and electrical wiring courses. The college will be able to take the mobile unit to local high schools and community organizations. 

To help alleviate transportation issues, some SCC instructors spend time at each high school where they teach college-level courses. The new SCC mobile unit takes this collaboration one step further by bringing state-of-the-art equipment to the high schools.

SCC’s mobile classroom is intended to introduce skills in HVAC and electrical. Cheyenne McNeill/EducationNC
South Columbus High School students check out the mobile classroom for the first time. Cheyenne McNeill/EducationNC