Spotlight On: Janet Smith, President, Columbia State Community College

Spotlight On: Janet Smith, President, Columbia State Community College

2022-07-12T11:33:21-04:00July 12th, 2022|Education, Nashville, Spotlight On|

2 min read July 2022 In an interview with Invest:, Janet Smith, president of Columbia State Community College, talked about some of the partnerships the college has sealed to continue preparing its students for the workforce that is currently in need of employees as well as for the workforce of the future. Smith also talked about the importance of dual enrollment and what it can provide students at both the college and high-school levels. 

What do your partnerships look like in 2022? 

They’re still extremely strong. One example is our Pre-Apprentice Lineworker Academy, which we could not have developed and implemented without our partnership with the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association (TVPPA) and the local utility companies that run as far north as Nashville and south into Lawrence County, but all of our region supported it. They provided funding as well as labor and parts in erecting the training center. Whether it be that type of a program, which is a fast-paced non-credit training program, or the associate degree programs, we are constantly working with our community and our businesses. 

Another example is the need for nursing in healthcare. We’ve been meeting with Maury Regional Medical Center, which has provided opportunities throughout the years for students through scholarships and tuition assistance programs, as well as grants for equipment. Like many healthcare agencies, they are experiencing a nursing shortage and find that a partnership with the College provides opportunities to meet the current workforce needs. The goal with partnerships is to align with workforce needs and provide more programs that need additional funding or expansion. 

What is the current makeup of students at the college? 

Currently we are experiencing a growth in part-time students than in recent years. We are still principally a younger student population, but have had an increase in adults, which is related to the Tennessee Reconnect. The Tennessee Reconnect is a grant program for individuals who have not obtained an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. We continue to market the program so adults know they can complete the degree they didn’t finish or select a new field and complete a degree there.   

What is the importance of dual enrollment?

Dual enrollment provides high school students the opportunity to experience college while in high school, as well as obtain credits that springboard them into their chosen career field. Our enrollment at this point exceeds where we were in 2019, thus, our dual enrollment is making a strong comeback. The majority of our dual enrollment students are individuals seeking to complete general education courses of English and mathematics. In addition, we have a considerable enrollment in technical programs like our engineering systems technology program (mechatronics). We have certificate programs in multiple high schools throughout our service area, which are modeled after our Fairview High School program in Williamson County. Through that partnership, we offer a dual enrollment and dual credit program that leads to an Associate of Applied Science degree. The program was designed so students can obtain a certificate program or receive a degree in high school. We are now in seven other high schools and received a state grant for EMS. We will begin this as a dual enrollment for Fall 2022. 

We expect that the cybersecurity mobile lab, which is a partnership with Williamson County Schools, will be implemented in 2022-23. This is an exciting project and much needed for the Nashville metro area and southern region.

Are you seeing a shift in virtual classes to in-person learning? 

Dual enrollment continues to be primarily in-person, which aligns with the preference of school systems. We prefer in-person as well as we see the interaction is better. With our other classes, we have a combination of both virtual and in-person. 

What challenges are you faced with? 

Building enrollment in a post-COVID environment continues to be a challenge, both statewide and nationally. Additionally, we anticipate a decline in high-school graduates, which also is a statewide and national trend. We are continuing to increase our efforts in retention and supporting students as they transition from high school to college and during their semesters at Columbia State. Furthermore, we are finding that students need increasing support in areas such as mental health, so we are continually working to provide additional resources.

What is your outlook for the higher-education sector over the next three to five years? 

The emphasis on workforce development continues to grow annually. Whether it be in the university or community college, there is a growing emphasis on short-term training programs for immediate entry into the workforce. I think the next three years will be aligning that emphasis with traditional associate and baccalaureate degrees to meet the overall workforce needs of our community and state. It’s an exciting and energetic time that will be met with a lot of creativity and data. We will meld current and future needs to provide for communities now and in the future. 

Columbia State is in the process of constructing on our Williamson Campus, an arts and technology facility that will be dedicated to computer and information technology programs. It will also include an innovation center, graphic arts program, and a small lecture auditorium. It will be the largest building on that campus and will provide opportunities for new programs like cybersecurity and data analytics. 

On the Columbia Campus, we are looking for a designer for the Southern Regional Technology Center. The SRTC will house Columbia State allied health programs as well as those provided by TCAT Hohenwald. The industrial section of this facility will house manufacturing and industry programs from Columbia State, TCAT Hohenwald, and TCAT Pulaski. Those programs include CNC, mechatronics, and automotive. The SRTC is a partnership between the Columbia industries, the community and the three colleges.   

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