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Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College

Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College’s Tobin: Bill has college funding; Build Back Better ‘an opportunity for higher ed’

The proposed federal Build Back Better bill could bring increased funding for higher education and workforce training programs, as well as competitive grants focused on retention and completion, Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College’s president said.

“I think even with the pared-down version, it’s still an opportunity for higher ed, in particular community colleges and minority-serving institutions like us, to gain some additional funding as part of the Build Back Better plan,” Dr. Walt Tobin said on Nov. 9.

Tobin discussed the Build Back Better bill with the OCtech Area Commission, explaining that he was part of a small and rural college commission that is part of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Tobin shared some highlights from a recent meeting held before the $2.2 trillion Build Back Better bill passed the House. The plan will now be considered by the Senate.

Tobin said the bill spends approximately $40 billion on higher education and workforce training programs, and increases the Pell Grant maximum by $550 for four years from academic years 2022-23 through 2025-26.

The bill also eliminates the taxation of Pell Grants, as well as the provision that reduced a student’s American Opportunity Tax Credit by any Pell Grant amounts received.

The latter change would allow hundreds of thousands of community college students to qualify for the $2,500 tax credit.

The bill also provides $4.9 billion for competitive grants to create and expand workforce training programs at community colleges and other post-secondary vocational institutions working with an industry sector partnership.

There is also $500 million for the U.S. Department of Education to award grants to improve student outcomes, including enrollment, retention and completion, along with $6 billion to increase mandatory appropriations to HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.

Tobin also reported that there is $700 million available through fiscal year 2026 for the U.S. Department of Education’s Adult Education and Family Literacy program. The bill also provides $600 million for Perkins CTE (Career and Technical Education) Basic State Grants and $100 million for the Perkins Act innovation and modernization grant program.

The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, or Perkins Act, is the main federal funding source for CTE programs.

Tobin said the small and rural college commission of the AACC also discussed how important competitive sports are to small rural colleges, but that the idea of bringing competitive sports to OCtech was “not met with much fanfare” from his staff.

“None of them seemed to be real interested, but it’s something that I think I’m willing to explore … to see if it’s worthwhile here. It certainly wouldn’t be football, but maybe sports that are not as expensive to run (and) certainly would give our students the opportunity to play competitive college athletics if they so choose,” Tobin said.

In other matters, the president reported that the OCtech Foundation approved Bob Sabalis, a longtime board member, as its board chairman and Dr. John Ansley, a local ENT specialist, as vice-chairman.

Three new board members include Pam Hughes, a retired member of OCtech’s nursing faculty; Marcus Johnson, owner of the Orangeburg Nissan dealership; and Todd McElhone, president of Pioneer Farm Equipment in Orangeburg.

“We're real excited about those two leaders coming on and the addition of the three foundation board members,” Tobin said.

The president also reported that the college will hold two graduation ceremonies on Tuesday, Dec. 14. One ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. and another at 5 p.m., with additional details to come later.

Tobin said the college’s next Youth Apprenticeship Signing Day will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30.

“We have seven youth apprentices who will be employed in the Orangeburg area, hopefully sometime beginning in the spring, one of which will be employed with us in the business affairs division,” the president said.

“We think that’s a good opportunity for our employers, but also for our students to get some workplace learning experience as part of their time with us,” he said.

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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