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SCC gets input on future of Swain campus

fr sccswainWhat should the future of Southwestern Community College look like in Swain County five to 10 years from now?

That’s what SCC wants to know before its team of planners and architects put together the community college’s master plan. Only a few community members attended a public input session Monday night at the SCC Swain Center, but it was clear from their comments that they wanted more local educational opportunities for their residents. 

The SCC Swain Center is currently housed in the old Almond School along U.S. 19 just outside Bryson City. The Swain Center offers a limited number of SCC programs, including Outdoor Leadership and Heritage Arts. The Swain Center also offers some basic skill and High School Equivalency (formerly called GED) courses.

“The programs we currently have here are great programs,” said Swain County manager Kevin King. “As a community member, I don’t feel we’re being treated equally compared to Macon or Jackson when it comes to sharing the core classes.”

King said he would like to see more general education classes offered at the Swain Center so Swain residents don’t have to travel to Sylva as much to earn their degree. 

County Commissioner David Monteith echoed King’s comments. He said many students didn’t have the money or the means to get to Sylva or Franklin for a class, especially non-traditional students who have jobs and families to support. 

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Paul Wolf, SCC Outdoor Leadership Program coordinator and instructor, said he remembers when several general education classes were offered at the Swain Center but doesn’t remember why they were taken away. 

Michael Cole, who specializes in designing college campuses, said upgrading the Almond School’s technology may help in getting more classes offered in Swain County. 

“One thing we’ve heard suggested is bringing the building up to the 21st century with technology,” he said. “Then, even if an instructor is teaching in Sylva, students here can get the same quality lesson without having a professor drive here. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about filling up a classroom. You may have 15 students in Sylva and several here.”

Architect Scott Baker said more space would be needed in the building if SCC added more classes or programs to campus. The Almond Center also houses the HeadStart program and the Swain/Jackson Cooperative Extension offices. Baker asked if it would be possible to move either of those programs in the future. 

King said it had always been understood that the Cooperative Extension offices would need to relocate elsewhere if and when SCC needed more classroom space. But it just hasn’t gotten to that point. 

“And having them here seems like a good fit with the programs we have now,” he said.  

Wolf said many classes could also be offered online if Swain County could get more reliable high-speed Internet. Even if students didn’t have Internet access at home, they could use the computer lab at the Swain Center. 

County Commissioner Ben Bushyhead added that with better planning and coordinating, more could be done to utilize the current space, including offering nighttime classes.

In addition to offering general education classes, Bushyhead said he would like to see more workforce development training and “soft skills” retraining so Swain County can offer a better-skilled workforce to industries looking to relocate to the area. While students may get a degree or learn a professional trade, he said students lacked the ability to properly communicate, write résumés and speak in public. 

Cole said that was not a unique challenge to Swain County.

“It’s a challenge everywhere,” he said. “As an employer, we get kids out of university that have no social skills. They have the mechanical skills but nothing else.” 

Former SCC student Lance Grant said he was disappointed to see programs fall by the wayside over the years, including the carpentry program that he completed with SCC. 

“I’d like to see more programs that teach students a skilled labor,” he said. “People always need mechanics, plumbers and electricians.”

Baker thanked everyone for their input and said they were still in the early stages of planning. The master plan will start to come together toward the end of the year once input is received from the other communities as well as faculty members. 

Aside from programming wants, Baker and Cole are also examining the layout of the Swain Center and how to best utilize the space and perhaps create more parking spots. In a recent land survey, Cole said it was discovered that Almond School Road, the only current access to the SCC campus, is privately owned. While it isn’t presenting a problem now, it may be a concern in the future because SCC doesn’t have the ability to make repairs to the road. 

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