By Lisa Allen
Pardon the pun, but it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to recognize that healthcare is a growing need in Beaufort County.
Beaufort is the 12th fastest growing county in the nation, with 4,000-5,000 new residents moving in every year.
Given that many of the new arrivals are retirees, the need is even more acute. Currently, an astonishing 29 percent of the county’s 165,354 residents are aged 60 or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
To address that need, the Technical College of the Lowcountry plans to turn its Beaufort campus into a health sciences center and move general education and technical programs to its New River campus in Bluffton and its Hampton location in Varnville, said TCL President Richard Gough.
TCL will create 10,000 square feet of new academic space by
renovating Moor Hall on the Beaufort campus and relocating administrative offices for new health sciences offerings.
The school already offers courses in massage therapy, nursing, physical therapist assistant, radiologic technology, surgical technology and medical assisting programs.
Based on employer requests, TCL wants to add programs for dental assistants, pharmacy technicians and respiratory technicians.
According to the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce Development, nearly 15 percent of Beaufort County’s 68,000 workers are in healthcare, a category that comes in third behind tourism and retail jobs.
The healthcare labor market is expected to grow 2.5 percent each year through 2022.
About 70 percent of those jobs don’t require four-year degrees, such as personal care aides, home health aides, nursing assistants, physical therapist assistants, sonographers, medical secretaries, records technicians, surgical technicians and dental assistants.
“We know that there is a demand for healthcare-related programs, but we’re space constrained,” Gough said. “The medical assistant program was started in a hallway closet. We need more clinical space and we need to graduate more students. We aren’t meeting demand. There are a lot of technician specialties that don’t have programs yet. We don’t have the facilities to do it.”
Meanwhile TCL is trying to find a way to pay for a planned $12.5-million expansion to the New River campus. Last year, the state General Assembly agreed to provide only $3.5 million.
“TCL is not state funded,” Gough said. “Only 18 percent of our budget comes from the state. Beaufort County also provides some support, but the majority comes from tuition and fees.”
Gough calls it a chicken and egg problem. They can’t attract more students — and thus tuition — until they add more programs. They can’t add programs until they can get more tuition.
But their students can’t pay high tuition.
“The school’s mission is open access to all and affordable,” said Mary Lee Carns, vice president for advancement and external relations. She is also executive director for the TCL Foundation.
TCL has kept tuition to half of University of South Carolina Beaufort, but even that is a stretch for their students.
Carns said while four-year colleges rely on alumni to boost their coffers, community colleges don’t have that resource.
“At four-year colleges and universities, the large majority of their donations come from alumni and a smaller percent from companies and corporations. It’s just the reverse for community colleges. Local employers are the ones who see the value of community colleges.”
TCL also is careful not to generate more graduates than are needed.
“We look at the workforce in our four counties,” said Glenn Levicki, dean of health sciences. TCL serves Jasper, Colleton, Hampton and Beaufort counties. “We have to justify adding more programs because after graduation, we want to ensure they will find jobs.”
Only 1 percent of the graduates of the six health science programs fail to find a job or continue their studies, Levicki said. The school has to maintain that performance to retain national accreditation granted by each discipline.
“We want to meet the needs of the community,” Levicki said.
It’s also helpful that the health sciences center will be next door to the county’s third largest employer, Beaufort Memorial Hospital.
“TCL and Beaufort Memorial have had a strong partnership for years. Many of our best staff members are graduates of TCL programs,” said Karen Carroll, Beaufort Memorial Hospital’s chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services. “As our population grows and our community’s medical needs change, both organizations are always looking at ways to best meet the needs of our friends and neighbors.
“We are thrilled that TCL is expanding their healthcare curriculum, and we will continue to support their programs.”
Carns and Gough stressed the important role TCL plays in both the lives of its graduates and of the local community.
“If you think about it, the quality of life in Beaufort County is driven by our graduates,” Carns said. “They are the ones who provide the care and services we all depend on, especially in health sciences.”