South Piedmont Community College Meets Students Where They Are and Takes Them Where They Want to Go

May 22, 2023

South Piedmont Community College Logo

Just shy of its 25th ‘birthday’ South Piedmont Community College is continuing to reinvent itself to serve students, businesses, and the entire community by improving economic mobility for citizens of Anson and Union counties.

We spoke with South Piedmont President Dr. Maria Pharr, Elizabeth Hamrick, Executive Assistant to the President and Director of Special Projects, and Rachel Pleasant, Executive Director of Marketing and Communications, about how the school is preparing the modern workforce.

What does South Piedmont Community College provide?

Dr. Maria Pharr: Our stakeholders are our community. That includes individuals who may be students, employers, and educational or government partners. We are the resource to help improve the economic mobility of our service area’s citizens.

We do that through education, training, and partnerships. We recently developed a Business Solutions team to help us connect better with our business partners, allowing us to provide customized training for the incumbent workforce to support the growth, adaptation, or continual improvement of our existing businesses. This team also provide work-based learning opportunities through internships and apprenticeships that grow a highly qualified talent pipeline of workers. Our Small Business Center is also within this division and provides expert advice, counseling, and support services to business start-ups or existing small businesses. Our Small Business Center partners with other organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, to enhance the viability or our local businesses. In addition, the college will soon be constructing a Center for Entrepreneurship, which will bring together resources for our entrepreneurs and create a supportive ecosystem to allow them to grow, thrive, and connect.

Our partnerships also extend to other educational systems. Our partnership with Union County Public Schools includes programs where high school students can earn college credit and valuable higher education credentials tuition-free. We also have a unique program designed to increase the teacher pipeline. South Piedmont has a traditional teacher preparation associate’s degree, but our unique approach for this partnership was to create an apprenticeship model for individuals who may be teacher assistants, students, or other non-teaching employees to earn their degree tuition-free while working in the field at the same time. Once they earn their associate degree, they can then take advantage of one of the guaranteed admissions programs we have with our university partners to complete their bachelor’s degree with no accrued debt and valuable work experience. One local university partner is Wingate University.  Our Road2Wingate program, which provides a seamless transfer for our associate degree graduates to Wingate University with a guaranteed scholarship that limits their costs at Wingate to $2500 per year for their final two years.

Elizabeth Hamrick: Our community partnerships also include services for adults to earn their high school equivalency, to learn English as a second language, to gain basic literacy skills, or to obtain fundamental job skills. These programs are free of charge and create opportunities for those whose wage-earning potential has been limited. 

These programs and partnerships are critical to developing a better quality of life for our local residents and a stronger workforce for our business community.

Learning Reimagined

Rachel Pleasant: We meet students where they are and take them where they want to go. Our Learning Reimagined Initiative is a great example of that. HyFlex Instruction allows students to take classes in the way that works best for them. They can attend in person, virtually during the class, or watch a recording of the session at a time that works for them. They can move seamlessly between the delivery modes. This removes barriers, so students don’t have to choose between a good-paying job or career advancement and going back to school.  That benefits students, their families, and employers, too, because they’re able to get an even more highly trained workforce.

Dr. Pharr: Learning Reimagined includes a suite of technologies and support systems to minimize the common barriers that negatively impact student success. HyFlex provides students the flexibility to choose how they wish to engage. If they have transportation issues, they can participate online with the seated students. If they have a work conflict, they can log onto the class at a more convenient time. This type of flexibility encourages student participation regardless of the barriers a student may face on a day-to-day basis. And to assist with the challenges of online learning, we have ongoing support and training for faculty and a Technology Commons for students who need extra help navigating the technology. We also invested in a course-delivery system, called Canvas, which is used by our public school systems as well as by Wingate University so that a student’s transition throughout the educational continuum is familiar and consistent. These innovations are making a significant impact, which is evidenced by a 35% reduction in the achievement gap across our most disparate student groups. This creates a more equitable experience for all of our students and results in a more educated population that benefits the entire community.  

Working at SPCC

Dr. Pharr: When I started here six years ago, we operated in a very conventional way. However, the culture of the college shifted to one that embraces innovation and modernization, which allowed us to adapt our educational model to meet the needs of the contemporary student. What has not changed is our heart that places our students, our partners, and our community at the center of what we do.

Rachel Pleasant: I’ve only worked here a few weeks.  However, I’ve worked in education for more than a decade and higher ed for most of that time.  I’ve never worked in a place where there’s such positive energy.  Instead of the phrase “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” here at SPCC it’s more of a, “what can we do differently, to innovate and do good for all?”

Elizabeth Hamrick: I agree. I think everybody here would say they truly enjoy working here, in an environment where your opinion matters. It’s a supportive place.

Last modified: May 23, 2023

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