Tomblin noted the community college system in the US was created for World War II veterans to fulfill the mission of the GI Loan system so that returning servicemen could get an affordable education close to home.
"Since that time, they have really taken off," she said.
Southern Community College began in 1971 with two modest campuses, Tomblin said, noting that other community colleges were created in West Virginia that were offshoots of various four-year colleges, which did not actually fulfill the mission of the community college concept.
"Our mission is to teach, not do research," she said of the community college concept.
Southern grew, offering basic classes for students who wished to transfer to a four-year college, specialized classes and transitional classes. The college excelled, however, at providing technical classes like its famed nursing program and other courses which allowed local students to take classes and go straight into good careers.
"You can take your classes, get certified and go straight into the workforce," Tomblin noted of courses like the Mining Institute, the paramedic and EMT courses and the Allied Health series of classes.
Tomblin said in the early 70s, around 75 percent of the students at Southern attended two years with the goal of moving on to a four year institute. In 1995 the West Virginia Legislature noticed the need for technical skills for the workforce and economic development, and began emphasizing the need for technical training. Southern West Virginia Community College became Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College. Today, Southern's Allied Health Program has the highest clearance rate on state testing and is considered to be a model for the rest of the state.
"Right now, we are at the 50-50 mark, with half our students going on to a four year college and the other half taking technical programs we offer for students in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky," she said, noting that tuition at Southern is among the most affordable rates in the state compared to other colleges at around $2,000 a year plus books (roughly one tenth of other colleges). Tomblin noted that there are other advantages to Southern - studies have shown that students who attend the college before going on to a larger university tend to do better academically than those who start out at a big school.
"And I tell students you can save enough money by attending Southern for two years to buy a car for when you go on to a four year institution," Tomblin said.
The college also has a 50/50 split among students with half being traditional students right out of high school and half being non-traditional students who are a little older and come into the college after years in the workplace.
Tomblin also discussed the college's Major Gifts Campaign which helps fund programs and building and expanding the college beyond what would be possible through tuition and state funds alone. Tomblin said the program's short term goal was to raise $7 million in a few years of starting up, and its long term goal was to raise $20 million by 2020.
"By the end of the year, we should reach the initial goal of $7 million," she said. "With what we have raised, we have started new programs in Boone, Williamson and Logan. Over 3,000 people have gone through our mining technology program and most of them are now employed in the mining industry. The state has helped us with that by funding a mobile command unit for mine disasters in southern West Virginia to assist rescue personal."
Tomblin praised Southern's staff and employees (numbering 230 across four campuses) for their support in making the college an outstanding educational institution. Tomblin discussed the $10 million Allied Health facility and a planned $6 million facility that will be built in Williamson as well as outreach sights in Lincoln County and Beckley.
"We have had to expand to reach our goal of providing accessible, affordable education which is part of the original community college concept. We are really excited about everything that is going on," Tomblin said.
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