Tim Hardee, a 30-year education veteran, took over Nov. 14 as president and executive director of the S.C. Technical College System, which oversees 16 regional technical colleges across the state.
Hardee comes to the system from Central Carolina Technical College in Sumter where he served for 15 years, including 10 years as president. Hardee’s experience in education also includes stints as a teacher, coach, counselor, principal and administrator on the K-12 level.
In a recent interview, Hardee talked about what he hopes to achieve and the challenges facing the state’s technical college system and higher education in general.
Why did you seek this job?
I have a great deal of enthusiasm for the important work that our system does for the citizens of South Carolina as well as our state's business and industry. The system is vital to building South Carolina's workforce. I look forward to working with the colleges, our economic development and workforce development partners, our General Assembly, our higher education community and our K-12 partners to continue to enhance the employability of South Carolinians and in turn, create a better quality of life for the citizens of this great state.
What can the technical college system do to help lower higher education costs?
The first thing we have to do is make sure the technical college system is accessible and affordable to South Carolinians. In South Carolina, there are 125,000 students — 57% of all students in higher education — served by the technical colleges. One thing we’re working on is to increase the opportunity for students to get the first two years of a four-year degree in the technical colleges. They can get their first two years in the technical college and transfer to a four-year school. This will result in less student debt.
Earlier this year Central Carolina launched a scholarship initiative this year that provides free tuition for the first two years of college. Why was it created?
The initiative is called “Carolina Scholars.” It’s an economic development tool designed to expand higher education opportunities to high school students in Clarendon, Kershaw, Lee and Sumter counties. The average age of a student at Central Carolina is 28. That means students are waiting 10 years after graduating from high school, working at a part-time, minimum-wage job, trying to save for college. We said if we could get them to come directly to college instead of waiting 10 years we could have a trained and well-educated workforce ready sooner for employers. We went to the city and county councils in the four counties we serve and asked for them to help sponsor the program, which costs $250,000 a year. It’s a four-year commitment, providing a scholarship for every student who graduates from 2016 through 2019.
So far, what are the results of Carolina Scholars?
One example is Kershaw County, where we were able to double the number students coming to us out of high school. Before, we received approximately 75 students from three high schools. This year, with the scholarships, we have 155 students coming to us. Historically, about 15% of our student enrollment comes to us out of high school, and we’ve raised that to 30%. We think it’s a success.
Eligible students must be in either private or public high school graduating classes of 2016, 2017, 2018 or 2019; graduate from a private or public high school in Sumter, Kershaw, Clarendon or Lee counties; and meet standard admission requirements.
What can be done to expand apprenticeship programs at technical colleges in South Carolina and what new programs should be implemented?
As a system, there are more than 16,000 students in apprenticeship programs. That compares to 700 when the program was started in 2007. We think it’s going to continue to grow because it offers great opportunities for the individual, who’s receiving on-the-job experience while getting an education, and for the employer who’s getting a skilled employee with valuable work experience. Our placement rate is 90% employed a year after being trained. We take great pride in that.
What areas need apprenticeship programs?
In the past, much of the apprenticeship programs have been offered in manufacturing settings. But we’re beginning to grow in health care and advanced manufacturing. There is some potential in cybersecurity and IT. We also have needs in construction trades and welding. There’s a need for more people with a commercial driver’s license to serve the trucking industry. We’re working with the Legislature to see how to address that need.
This story originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, print edition of the Columbia Regional Business Report.