Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read September 2021 — Columbia State Community College was the first community college established in the state of Tennessee. In an interview with Invest:, President Janet Smith discussed the college’s partnerships with private industries to foster workforce development as well as the importance of, and the need for, the Regional Technology Center.
What differentiates Columbia State Community College from other institutions in the region?
We carry the distinction of being the very first community college established in the state of Tennessee. We have long-term employees who have been here for 40 years, which speaks to the quality and culture of this institution. This is a quality, caring environment that is truly looking at the success of students. We work very closely with the community and private industry to meet the needs of the region.
What makes Middle Tennessee a great region for the college and its students?
This is an environment that is welcoming to growth and change, as well as being a nice place to live. The commitment to the state of education is superb, which goes back to Gov. Bill Haslam and his Drive to 55 initiative, a strong push for the Tennessee Promise program and the Tennessee Reconnect program. If you look at the educational services, healthcare, tourism, opportunities for entertainment and the beauty of the land and the kindness of the people, you can’t ask for much better.
Maury County, specifically, is an exciting county. It’s growth and change over the past few years has been phenomenal. People are finding Maury County to be a great place to move to and live.
How has demand for the college’s programs shifted since 2019?
Pre-pandemic, we were in a good growth cycle, not only in enrollment numbers but in continuous improvement of student success and retention rates. We had a decline in enrollment during the pandemic but we’re building back to 2019 levels.
The biggest change I’m seeing right now is more virtual learning. We’re combining virtual learning with in-class learning and we have been very successful with Zoom this past year. For fall 2021, we’re seeing continuing students opting more for Zoom classes while new students are opting more for in-class experiences. We have scheduled more Zoom classes than we ever have and I think we’ll see this evolve to a point where students can choose day-by-day whether they want to join class physically or virtually.
What is the importance of the dual enrollment program?
Through partnering with the legislature, high schools and community industries, we have students who are completing their associate degree or completing an array of college level courses while in high school. We are in 14 high schools throughout the region and approximately 1,500 students are involved in the dual enrollment program. They graduate ready to go to work or to continue their education with a university. This year, the legislature increased the number of courses that are paid for by dual enrollment, so a student can enroll in four college-level courses that are paid for by the state. The courses range from engineering tech to professional programs.
How does the college work with private industry to meet workforce needs?
We’re constantly reviewing our curriculums and programs in light of what our community’s needs are. We’re looking at the new industries coming in, trying to determine what those industry needs will be and how we can adjust our curriculum to meet those needs. Currently, we’re keeping an eye on General Motors and the Ultium battery plant.
A good example of working with business is with Columbia Power and Light and their needs for linemen. Through our workforce program, we partnered with Columbia Power and other utility companies to install a pole yard and all necessary resources for training. The program was implemented in fall 2020 at full capacity, and has been full every quarter since.
What is the importance of the Regional Technology Center?
The Regional Technology Center is the No. 1 need of Maury County in meeting the training demands that exist and are developing. We’re working very hard to have this facility placed on the state appropriations list for funding. This center will house programs that include welding, CNC, engineering tech, industrial maintenance, nursing, respiratory and radiology tech, EMS, and others. The Regional Technology Center will provide us with the opportunity to educate and train a workforce consistent with the needs of our diverse local economy.
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