Greenville Technical College: Charting Success with President Dr. Keith Miller

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Today we sit down with Dr. Keith Miller, the President of Greenville Technical College, a pioneering institution in South Carolina for higher education and economic development. Dr. Miller covers the college’s journey since its inception in 1962, the strengths and challenges of its student population, and its steadfast commitment to community engagement through strategic partnerships.

Tune in to learn how Greenville Technical College continues to play a pivotal role in South Carolina’s economic transformation, with highlights like the African American Male Scholars Initiative (AAMSI) and an impactful dual enrollment program. It’s a fascinating journey, showing that the pathway to success is often paved by adapting to community changes and fostering meaningful relationships.

Transcript

Katy Smith: Greenville Technical College is one of the largest public two-year colleges in South Carolina, transforming students’ lives and helping our community thrive by providing a world-class affordable education to students and building an educated, engaged workforce committed to lifelong learning. I’m Katy Smith with Greater Good Greenville, and today I speak with Dr. Keith Miller, president of Greenville Technical College.

Dr. Miller will discuss the current student population and programs of the college, the vital role the college played in revitalizing our state’s economy, and what’s next for Greenville Tech and our community’s workforce.

I’m delighted to be here with Dr. Keith Miller, President of Greenville Technical College. Thanks so much for joining us today, Dr. Miller.

Dr. Keith Miller: You’re welcome. Thanks for the opportunity.

Katy Smith: Can we start with just a brief history of Greenville Technical College?

Dr. Keith Miller: Certainly. Greenville Technical College actually was the first technical college in the state of South Carolina. We opened our doors in 1962. And we’ve grown from that one campus in 1962 to five campuses and several centers now, um, spread throughout, of course, Greenville County. And actually we’re the only technical college in the state that, um, serves just one county by state law.

And that is Greenville County. And the reason that is, is because Greenville County is the most populous county within the state. Out of the 16 colleges, there are what we call the three large colleges, which is Greenville Tech, Midlands Technical College in Columbia, and Trident Technical College in Charleston, South Carolina.

So we’re a strong system, but yet we’re all locally focused and locally governed. I’ve been at the college since 2008. I’m actually the second president of Greenville Tech, Dr. Tom Barton, who started the college, was there for 46 years. So quite the long tenure, but, but the college has seen, you know, a lot of significant changes over the years.

We have over 100 programs from healthcare to manufacturing, to business to transfer. Programs where students come to us before transferring onto a university or going into one, or what do we call our, our terminal degree programs, whether that’s nursing or radiology or any manufacturing area with the intent of being ready for a job when they get done with that 18 month, two year, three year program.

The law was changed to also allow Greenville Technical College to offer a baccalaureate degree. ‘Cause typically, not just the South Carolina, but across the US, the two year colleges offer up to and through an associate’s degree. But in many states now, laws have changed to allow the two year colleges to all offer a four year baccalaureate degree.

And the law in South Carolina was changed to allow Greenville Technical College to do that and, and we’re currently the only technical college in the state that can offer a baccalaureate degree or, or takes advantage of the opportunity to offer a baccalaureate degree, and that’s in advanced manufacturing technology.

So that’s worked out very well for us. We have overall about 19,000 students, um, which includes students that are in some sort of credit bearing certificate or program. And then students that are in some aspect of workforce development, continuing education. Much like a college or a university that might have different colleges, a college of engineering, a college of health sciences.

Um, we have five schools. Advanced manufacturing and transportation. Um, a school of health sciences, a school of business and computer sciences, um, a school of engineering technology and professional sciences. And we go year round. Of course, a lot of times people will ask me, it’s usually a statement that says, “we probably don’t have too many students in the summer.”

And I said, “no, actually we have five to 6,000 students in the summer between all of our sites and all of our campuses.” We have a lot of great partnerships quite honestly, that you might say make things tick. We are a community-based college and so the partnerships with local leaders and local organizations is what it’s all about.

‘Cause those are the individuals that we serve. Those are the, um, organizations that help us provide the service. As an example, when we were coming out of the recession in 2010, 2011, the cry from manufacturers, um, was getting louder and louder for more trained technicians. So, so we built a Center for Manufacturing Innovation, which is housed in the ICAR area.

And that has attracted a lot of attention. But locally, statewide, nationally, we’ve had visitors internationally come and visit, um, for sure what we call C M I. And then we look at other partnerships too. As another example, we have a aircraft maintenance program. Not every aircraft maintenance program is certified by the FAA.

Few are actually college-based programs. Um, ours is one of those that is certified by the FAA. So there’s, there’s some things that our students are qualified for that others may not be qualified for. But we formed a partnership with the National, the local National Guard six or seven years ago would be my guess, because they needed some new space.

Our program was growing so rapidly we were busting at the seam. So we jointly built a facility out at Donaldson. So that facility now is used by the local National Guard. And we trained some guardsmen on aircraft maintenance, or in this case maybe maintenance for some helicopters. And we use it of course to, um, house our program and it enables us to put all of our airplanes and helicopters under the roof right now.

So that, that’s just another, uh, example of a good partnership that makes things work.

Katy Smith: Oh my gosh. The breadth of what Greenville Technical College does and just the depth of student training. And I can also say these facilities that these programs take place in are beautiful as they should be because it’s important work that’s happening there. It’s really an impressive reach.

Dr. Keith Miller: Very much so. There’s, you know, there’s, so many times I hear comments from people in the community, “well, I didn’t realize, well, I didn’t realize,” and then, you know, you can go on to finish this sentence. I mean, somebody was asking me yesterday about our culinary program. He, he said he saw the advertisement on, um, TV and, and I said “that program is based at our northwest campus in the Berea area.”

We have five professional kitchens there. And so our chefs that come out of that program are highly sought after, and the placement rate is very, very high. And quite often in many cases, we have, um, a waiting list of getting into that program also. So another good example of partnerships that are there because of the, the restaurant association in the area and stuff, of course, has been um, a part of our advisory board and, and helps us stay on top of the latest and greatest you might say. And, and so that’s what makes those programs very much a, um, success.

Katy Smith: One thing I’ll flag and we can put a link to it in the show notes is we had an interview with Joe Urban with Greenville County School’s Food and Nutrition Services, and Greenville Tech was instrumental in helping transform Greenville County School’s food program to be one of the best in the whole country because all of the school food service professionals went and got trained at Greenville Technical College over a couple of summers.

So, I mean, you’ve transformed K through 12 nutrition, um, because of the outstanding technical college services. So lots of partnerships.

Dr. Keith Miller: You know, and, and you mentioned Greenville County Schools. That has always been, um, of course a very strong relationship and a strong partnership. Like many partnerships, it keeps growing and evolving, uh, more than anything else. And one thing that has really grown in South Carolina and Greenville Technical College is dual enrollment or a lot of times what people call early college.

And essentially that’s where mostly high school seniors, but sometimes high school juniors also can take college courses while they’re, um, still in high school. I mean, they have to qualify for entry into that college course just like any student would if they came to campus. Um, no matter what those requirements are, um, they hold true, uh, even for that early college student.

But we offer those types of courses, college courses on every Greenville County High School campus now. Um, and so we, we have over 2000, um, early college students enrolled in those types of courses every year. And many people don’t realize this. On three of our five campuses, we have three charter schools.

On our Barton campus, on our rear campus or Benson campus and, um, on our Brazier campus. While they are separate entities, they’re still located on our campus. And of course the partnerships, um, with the charter schools is very strong because they’re located on a college campus.

Katy Smith: Yes, it’s an incredible experience and I have someone who’s headed to college. And thanks to dual enrollment opportunities, has some great credits under their belt, which saves money for our family. So it’s a great asset.

So back in the 1960s, what was going on in South Carolina that really necessitated a new way of looking at post-secondary education?

Dr. Keith Miller: At the end of the textile career the state did need to look at another road to economic development in order to sustain the economy. And actually with the leadership at that time of Governor Fritz Hollings, who was exposed to the technical college structure in another state, really brought that idea here and saw the value in creating a system that would help to create a skilled workforce.

And when you look at our name, um, of course, “technical college,” in a way that’s a little misleading. Because some people think that the only service that we provide or focus on technical courses and programs only. And, and of course that’s not the case. A very heavy focus in that area, certainly.

But in many respects, we are a comprehensive community college, which means we do focus on the technical programs, but also programs meant to transfer students to different universities in state as well as outta state, and the comprehensive services stretch beyond just the technical nature of manufacturing, H V A C and things like that.

We probably have almost every healthcare program that you can think of at Greenville Technical College. So that’s the comprehensive nature of what we do. But stepping back to the 1960s with the end of the textile career, and then we, we saw the opportunities, the state saw the opportunities at that time to pursue, um, other growth industries that were out there.

Whether it was the automotive industry or other types of manufacturing or the tire industry. Um, as, as we know, we have, have the Michelin North America headquarters here, but we also knew the leaders at that time knew we needed a skilled and trained workforce in order to attract those industries.

When a business or industry of any type is interested in locating to South Carolina, greenville Technical College is always asked to be at that table initially for that discussion because of the importance of workforce. I tell the story a lot of times that 20 years ago when I’d be a part of a group meeting with an interested industry in moving into an area, they would always have a list of seven or eight items.

Those items would be tax abatement or some sort of special deal or some prebuilt facility or something like that. Workforce development was always on that list. It always has been on that list, but 10 to 15 years ago, it was towards the bottom of that list. And now that list remains the same, but it’s been reordered.

The top of the list is now workforce development. Which makes a lot of sense. I mean, so, so these employers are basically saying to us, you know, yes, a tax abatement is nice. Yes, this prepared facility is nice, this available land is nice, but without a skilled workforce you know, we won’t be able to use those other items to oversimplify things.

So, that role that we play in partnership with our economic development agencies is, is absolutely crucial and it’s exciting because of the success of South Carolina and the Southeast as a whole.

Katy Smith: I’m so glad you lifted that up because I think there’s so much conversation about, as companies are recruited from outside of Greenville to Greenville, we did an episode about fee in lieu of tax agreements with Mark Ferris at G A D C, and I think some folks that might not be plugged into that conversation think “what’s the benefit to those people who are here in South Carolina or in Greenville County.”

I think you’ve named it. If someone has, is ready to work or has gotten great training at Greenville Technical College and a new well-paying job comes in, you know, that’s a really exciting opportunity for that person and their family. And then our tax base as a whole, as folks wages go up.

Dr. Keith Miller: Absolutely. And, and you have a, an expanded or new industry contributing to that tax space and ultimately the quality of life and, you know, and, and even at, at commencement when I give the charge to the graduates I, I hit on several different priorities, but I also tell them that one of the most important things that they can do is give back to their community because of the education that they’ve received at Greenville Tech.

And no matter what career path they have chosen, whether it’s to go directly to a university or directly to the workforce, they now have the capacity to contribute to the quality of life in the community. And that’s one of the roles of Greenville Technical College is to improve that quality of life in the community.

Katy Smith: Well. Alright. That’s a great place to go now because we’ve talked about the benefit to our economy and to employers, and we’ve touched on students, but I’d love to talk a little bit more about students. You get to see tens of thousands lives improve as a result of their training. Can you tell us a little bit more about the student experience and what benefits students and families get from Greenville Technical College?

Dr. Keith Miller: Um, when I think about the student body at Greenville Technical College, it is typically, uh, the average age is typically a little higher than you would see at a university. I mean, when you think of, of a major university, you think of the student coming right outta high school and, and, um, 18, 19 year olds what, whatever the case may be.

I look at our student body and we certainly do have the 18 and 19 year olds right out of high school. There’s no doubt about that. But the average age is, is more like 24, 25, um, somewhere. And, and of course that fluctuates every year. When you think about an older student body population and look at the characteristics of that population, we have single parents, um, we have parents that, that, um, are not single, but both working parents.

So, so when we look at, at, um, the characteristics of the student body at Greenville Technical College and think of the life challenges that those students have with maintaining a family, being able to support that family financially and otherwise. There’s many priorities in their life beyond their college career, but yet we know they’re there to help improve the life for their family.

So our services really have to be customized and our services have to be flexible to allow for that because there, there’s many occasions where a student will say, ” a new full-time job came about and I need to support my family, so I have to stop out and I will be back, but I have to stop out.”

And sometimes they stop out for a semester, sometimes for a year, sometimes for two years. Then, um, a lot of them do come back, um, to finish that degree. But the point of it is our services have to be flexible to work with those students to address those challenges. And then you have the student that, that might have a bachelor’s or master’s degree has been out in the workforce and as workforce 10 to 15 years.

And once they change in career and will come back to us, so. They have a knowledge base of already being in the workforce. And, and of course that that degree that they already have, which is very comprehensive and gives them a different picture of how the world operates and what the world of work is like, and that all goes into creating that, that, um, environment in the classroom that is really valuable.

And when you think about, if you think about a classroom full of 18 or 19 year olds, and then a classroom full of adults that have been out in the work world. No advantage or disadvantage, either one. It’s just different populations, but my point of it is the classroom full of older adults that have been out in the workforce and with that knowledge base already… how that faculty member works in that classroom is much different than the faculty member in a classroom of 18 or 19 year olds. Not that the 18, a classroom of 18 or 19 year olds doesn’t have a strong knowledge base. They certainly do. It’s just when you have more life experiences, you often approach things a little bit differently.

But that’s the key to community colleges nationwide, is our flexibility to adapt to, um, the learning experiences that the student that already brings to us. You know, we started a program just not too long ago, um, at AAMSI for short, is the African American Male Scholars Initiative. Nationwide in colleges and universities um, the African-American male usually scored lower than other populations in a college or university. So we started a program, started a pilot to focus on nothing but the African-American male and, and again, we call it AAMSI for short. That program has been in existence now for just maybe three or four years, but we’ve seen huge success as a matter of fact.

The success rate of the African American male in that program now exceeds the success rate of all males throughout the rest of the college. And so, that’s again another advantage of, of the community college setting. We can, pick out, you might say, a specific set of students within the overall student population, look at their individual needs and customize our services to address those needs.

Katy Smith: So we’ve covered the really important past of Greenville Technical College. We know how broad its reach is today. What do you see going forward?

Dr. Keith Miller: Any change that happens at Greenville Technical College is driven by change in the community and change in professions. So if something dramatic happens, um, in the healthcare profession, just as an example, um, that very much will reflect upon the healthcare programs that we provide.

We recently created or strengthened our partnership with Prisma Health. Prisma now took the lead and put in their name on a facility that we have going up now, the Center for Health and Life Sciences will be named Prisma Health Center for Life Sciences. And that’s currently being built and, and will open up in, um, the fall of 24.

But the point of that is, is that the needs in health care, a lot of times we hear about shortages in nursing. It’s not just shortages in nursing, it’s shortages in other areas of healthcare. Also, other types of occupations and technicians. By strengthening the partnership with Prisma, we’re able to help them fill that gap.

They’re able to help us strengthen our programs so we can in turn help them. So as I look five to 10 years down the road, there’s no doubt that the partnerships that we create now will continue to evolve. And they’ll continue to, to strengthen. And that’s the only way we will continue to meet all the needs out there.

And that’s also the only way that employers will be able to continue to, um, have and employee a skilled workforce in many ways.

Katy Smith: Well, you know, I believe that everyone listening knows many people who have been impacted by Greenville Technical College. You know, folks that they work with who got a certificate there, a child who’s in the charter school program or who’s working on their associate’s degree, they themselves who might be interested in going back to school to get a new certificate or credential or finish out their degree.

So, I know we all understand the impact of Greenville Technical College, but really appreciate you coming in, Dr. Miller, to go in detail and let us know how important Greenville Technical College is in Greenville County.

Dr. Keith Miller: Thank you for the opportunity to talk about the college. I always enjoy doing that.

Katy Smith: Thanks so much.

Dr. Keith Miller: Thank you.

Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of Podcast Studio X.

Image via Greenville Technical College

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