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Swain asks SCC for more programs, better communication

swainIn addition to wanting more curriculum classes offered for residents, Swain County commissioners want better representation on the Southwestern Community College Board of Trustees. 

SCC President Dr. Don Tomas came before the commissioners last week to answer any questions about the college’s funding request for 2015-16 and a number of other concerns the county has about the future of higher education services for its community. 

With only 13 students from Swain County taking curriculum classes at the SCC Almond Center just outside Bryson City, Commissioner Steve Moon asked why the county was paying $127,000 a year to keep it in operation.

Tomas said just looking at the number of curriculum students didn’t give a complete picture of the services being provided at the Swain campus. The only curriculum programs offered in Swain are Outdoor Leadership and an Associate’s in Fine Arts, but there are also a number of continuing education classes and workforce development training available.

Tomas said over the last two years, there’s been an average of 380 Swain County residents taking continuing education courses at the Almond Center.

He added that there are residual economic development benefits to having the center open. It employees 19 full-time and part-time employees — creating a payroll of about $250,000 a year — and students from other counties attend the Swain campus and spend money in the community. 

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“Just looking at curriculum students at the Swain center doesn’t do it justice when you look at the overall picture,” Tomas said. 

Commissioner David Monteith, who drives a school bus in Swain County, said many of the students he talks to want to go into teaching or nursing. He asked Tomas if a nursing or teaching degree program was feasible for Swain County. 

Tomas agreed health science programs were in demand, but they are also very expensive to implement. Being a community college, SCC also doesn’t want to duplicate services and programs readily available somewhere else in the region. 

“Were lucky in our service area to be within 20 or so minutes from each (SCC) location,” he said. 

County Manager Kevin King said the county would love to have general education classes offered at the Almond Center so local students could receive those credits locally instead of driving to Sylva or Franklin. 

“Looking at it from a student point of view — those people are driving back and forth and contributing to Sylva and Franklin’s economy,” King said. 

Tomas said he understood their position. However, many high school students are now able to receive those basis college credits by taking Advanced Placement classes. Many students now graduate high school with an associate’s degree thanks to the early college program. 

Commissioner Ben Bushyhead said it was important for the commissioners and SCC to have an open line of communication to discuss these needs and opportunities for growth in the future. 

“It’s a dialogue we need to have and one I don’t think we have right now,” he said.

Tomas agreed that the two entities needed to work closely together as SCC works on its master plan in the coming year. As soon as SCC signs a contract with an architect to begin the master planning process — which could be next January — Tomas said SCC would begin having community focus groups to discuss specific needs for each county.

One last issue Bushyhead brought up was the lack of Swain County representation on the SCC Board of Trustees.

“What do we need to do to make that happen so we have a better voice?” he asked Tomas.

Tomas said he isn’t sure why Swain County doesn’t have three representatives on the board like the other counties — it’s something that happened before he became president three years ago. 

The SCC board consists of 14 trustees. By law, the board is comprised of five members appointed by the county commissioners, four appointed by the Board of Education, four appointed by the governor and the Student Leadership Association president serves as an ex-officio member.

While Swain County doesn’t have any members that have been appointed by the board of commissioners, Tomas said there are two board members that are from Swain County. 

John Herrin, Swain County Board of Elections chairman, serves on the board as a governor appointee and Lambert Wilson is a Swain County Board of Education member appointed to the SCC board. 

To request a member be appointed by the Swain County commissioners, Tomas advised the board to send a request letter to SCC Board of Trustees Chairman Terry Bell so that the issue can be discussed by the executive committee. 



SCC Board of Trustee members

• Terry Bell – appointed by Macon County commissioners

• Gary Shields — appointed by Macon County commissioners

• Conrad Burrell — appointed by governor (lives in Sylva)

• Jeff Cloer — appointed by the Macon County commissioners

• J. Vance Davidson — appointed by Jackson County commissioners

• Dewayne Elders — appointed by Jackson County commissioners

• John Herrin — appointed by governor (lives in Bryson City)

• Lambert Wilson — appointed by Swain County Board of Education

• W. Paul Holt Jr. — appointed by Jackson County Board of Education

• Jeremy Hyatt — appointed by governor to represent Qualla Boundary

• Mark Jones — appointed by Jackson County Board of Education

• Libby Knight — appointed by Jackson County Board of Education

• C. Jerry Sutton — appointed by governor (lives in Clarks Chapel community)

• Nichole Hill — Student leadership appointee

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