Midlands Tech president Sonny White retiring

ashain@thestate.comDecember 18, 2013 

Midlands Technical College president Sonny White – who oversaw the addition of two new campuses and a record federal grant – will retire after eight years on the job at the end of 2014.

The college’s commission plans to launch a nationwide search for a successor to lead the state’s third-largest technical college and hopes to have a new president in place before White leaves, the school said.

White, 70, said he was retiring next year so the new president could work with the college’s chief operating and academic officers before they both retire in a few years. “I didn’t want to leave a vacuum of leadership,” said White, who is paid $150,973 a year.

White retired as a senior executive with pharmaceutical firm Ciba-Geigy before starting his second career as an educator. He was executive vice president of Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, N.C., before becoming president of Midlands Tech in 2006.

During White’s tenure, the school debuted its Harbison Theatre performance center in Irmo and opened campuses in Batesburg-Leesville and Fairfield County.

“Most of our students work 30-40 hours a week so they’re not always going to be able to travel from Bateburg-Leeville to our Beltline or Airport campus,” White said. “So we have to take it out to them.”

At its Northeast campus, Midlands Tech opened an 82,000-square-foot Engineering Technology and Sciences Building in October and completed an Enterprise Campus to recruit businesses with the perk of using Midlands Tech resources.

The college also started a program with the University of South Carolina that allows Midlands Tech students to live on the university’s Columbia campus, called Gamecock Gateway.

Midlands received $40 million in federal grants over the past three years – including a school-record $25 million grant this fall for medical-related training.

“Sonny has been an invaluable asset to MTC and to the community,” Mack Jackson, chairman of the school’s commission, said in a statement.

During his tenure, White said he thought he had helped Midlands residents understand the value of a technical college degree.

Enrollment at Midlands Tech has grown 10 percent since White’s arrival, but that is smaller than the 28 percent increase at technical colleges statewide from 2006 to 2012, according to state higher-education data.

With the addition of a Boeing jet manufacturing plant, Charleston’s Trident Technical College has become the state’s largest tech school. Its enrollment has increased 50 percent to more than 17,000 students since 2006. However, at Greenville Technical College, the state’s second-largest tech school, the student population grew less than 1 percent.

White said his successor will need to find ways to keep the school relevant to the companies that are growing dominant in the Midlands economy, including tire makers and the expanded SCE&G nuclear plant in Jenkinsville.

“They will need to look at more advertising and connecting with people so they meet the needs, so Gov. (Nikki) Haley and (S.C. Commerce Secretary) Bobby Hitt can attract more business,” he said.

White said he plans to move to the Greensboro, N.C., area to be closer to his children and grandchildren.

He also plans to consult with two-year colleges, where a large number of aging presidents are expected to retire in coming years. “They’re going to need some help.”

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