COLUMBIA – The South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus says it’s opposed to a plan to temporarily close Denmark Technical College and convert it into an area trade school.
Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, said the plan doesn’t solve the problem. He’s the chairman of the caucus.
“You have to look at solving the problem of Denmark Tech and address it in a holistic way. And you don’t have to necessarily take away its designation as a technical college in order to do that,” he said.
The House Ways and Means Committee’s version of the state budget would remove Denmark Tech from the state technical college system and return it to its previous role as a trade school. The full House and Senate still have to approve the change.
Govan said the proposal, “basically closes the school. It delays it for three months, closes the school and creates a study committee. So, it really doesn’t solve the problem.”
The school has been slighted financially and has not received the financial support it needs from the state, he said.
Denmark Tech Interim President Dr. Christopher Hall addressed the school’s decline in enrollment.
“I’ve put together a team and we have developed a comprehensive plan with aggressive advertising, aggressive recruiting in all of the areas of South Carolina, especially in our three-county service area,” Hall said.
“We are looking to add new programs which will attract new students, such as pre-pharmacy, funeral services. We’re also looking to expand some of our current programs: advanced welding, advanced culinary arts and degrees in mechatronics,” Hall added.
“So, we are looking at a multi-pronged approach to increase enrollment,” he said.
Hall said money from the legislature will be needed to help expand programs.
In 2017, the institution implemented the Panther Promise program offering two years of free tuition for high school graduates of public or private schools in Bamberg, Allendale or Barnwell counties.
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“Panther Promise is still in place and is still helping students. Right now, I think we have about 33 students who are Panther Promise students,” Hall said.
Bamberg County Council Chairman Trent Kinard, who was at the press conference, stated that the institution has “been an important education cornerstone in Bamberg County.”
“Denmark is one of our largest employers and as a business generates over $32 million annually. That can’t be said enough because we are one of the poorest rural counties in South Carolina,” Kinard stated.
Officials in attendance agreed that if the school were into converted into a trade school, then the school’s economic impact would decrease, adding to the economic problems in Bamberg and surrounding counties.
Govan called for the issues affecting the institution to be reassessed.
“I think now would be a great time for everyone to look back and really take a serious, hard look at how we can work together to not only make the institution viable but also utilize the tremendous resource as it is to enhance the overall economic conditions in this critical area of the state,” Govan said.
Govan also stated that the S.C. Technical College System has played a role in the institution’s issues.
“What people are missing in all of this is the fact that the state tech board has been running the institution for the last 18 months. So, I think the state of South Carolina has some responsibility when its lead agency that was down there that controlled the board did the hiring and was supposed to bring about the enhancements and improvements to make it a viable institution,” Govan stated.
“If we’re saying the school failed, that means they failed in terms of their responsibilities as well,” Govan added.
The State Tech Board assumed oversight of Denmark Tech in May 2017, citing a decline in the college’s enrollment and operating balance.
Govan said the school’s issues can be resolved.
“Rather than dwell on the negative, we’re saying ‘Hey look, let’s not have a knee-jerk reaction. Let’s bring everybody to the table and let’s see how we can make this thing work,’” he stated.