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Columbia’s Future: Education is the Equalizer

Nov 03, 2021

Columbia Skyline

The following Op-Ed from Midlands Technical College President Dr. Ron Rhames was submitted, upon request, to The State newspaper in conjunction with its series "The Future of South Carolina Cities."

The news outlet published it online on October 27th and in its print edition on Sunday, October 1st.

When asked to contemplate the future of Columbia, I was immediately intrigued. Thinking of life 10, 20, or 30 years into the future fills me with hope and confidence. To me, one thing is clear.  Education is the equalizer! While our community has many positive attributes that will make it stronger in the future, there is much work to be done for our communities to reach full potential.

I believe my personal story is the perfect example of how education is and will continue to be transformative. I arrived at Midlands Technical College as a student in 1976. I was unsure about my future, but I left with open eyes and knowledge that was life-changing. MTC transformed my life and put me on a path to a sustainable career and ultimately President of the college.

When I consider the challenges we will face in the future; I know first-hand that we are on a sound footing rooted in technical colleges like MTC. MTC serves Columbia as well as Richland, Lexington, and Fairfield counties. MTC is a pathway to success for all in our service area to fulfill their hopes and dreams, be it Palmetto or Life Scholars, the average individual or those who find themselves at a disadvantage because of life circumstances.

In the decades ahead, I see education and training offered by MTC becoming obligatory, much like high school diplomas became in the past century. Dual enrollment will grow, allowing thousands of 17 and 18-year-old students to finish high school with a college degree or certification. As a result, more and more young people will be positioned to have family-sustaining careers without mountains of student loan debt.

In the decades ahead, I see growth in what we call “promise programs.”  Like the one in place in Fairfield County, Promise Programs allow students to attend MTC tuition-free and will help businesses and industries of the Midlands by accelerating young people to the workforce much sooner.   

In the decades ahead, I see MTC continuing to answer the call to provide programs and training that build the workforce pipeline for the large and growing percentage of the region’s most hard-to-fill job openings in the middle-skill and skilled-trade positions. These are jobs that require more than a high school diploma but not necessarily a four-year degree. We know that many could benefit from this direct route to available jobs that pay higher wages and increase job satisfaction.

In the decades to come, I see MTC growing the number of people taking advantage of our college programs that allow them to continue their education to become teachers, doctors, lawyers and many other professionals. These MTC students will not only lower their cost of college and have lower debt burdens, but they will also save parents and taxpayers money.

Midlands Technical College will continue living up to its designation as a Purple Heart College in the decades ahead. We will continue to be the largest provider of veterans’ educational benefits to service members and their families in the Midlands. We will strive to earn more accolades from The Military Times as a “Best College for Veterans,” and we will build even stronger relationships with the military community, especially Fort Jackson and the soldiers they train.

I see more of Columbia’s entrepreneurs turning to MTC to learn key skills to grow their businesses and close the wealth gap in the decades ahead. I see growth coming for entrepreneurial programs like FastTrac® with the City of Columbia Office of Business Opportunities. Programs such as FastTrac® are designed to provide intensive hands-on instruction; success is sparked there – like one student who went from welfare to launching a million-dollar construction management company.

To be sure, the decades ahead will bring challenges. However, our Capital City, and the entire region are well-positioned for a bright future. Our partnerships with K-12 and other higher education institutions will provide our communities with the equalizer, education. I am confident that educating more of our citizens will continue to change life trajectories and make our communities more prosperous and a better place to raise families.

Dr. Ronald L. RhamesDr. Ronald L. Rhames, a 1978 graduate of Midlands Technical College, became its sixth president in March of 2015.