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Tech college fears for its future if board’s power is removed

gmelendez@thestate.com

A bill in the S.C. Legislature would strip Denmark Technical College’s governing commission of its control over the two-year college in rural Bamberg County.

A co-sponsor of the proposal say the move is needed to save the technical college. But the head of the school’s governing commission worries the plan could result in closing the school.

State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, introduced a bill this week to take control of Denmark Tech from its local area commission. Instead, the school, which serves Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell counties, temporarily would be placed under the control of the board that oversees the state technical college system.

Hutto says Denmark Tech’s declining enrollment could land it in dire financial straights. The school’s student body has dropped to 527 today from about 1,100 two years ago.

At the same time, many tech students from Denmark Tech's tri-county area now are attending other tech colleges. Of the 110 degrees that Denmark Tech awarded last year, only 46 went to students from its three counties, Hutto said.

“People in the area may have decided they can get a better education or a better chance at a job (elsewhere),” Hutto said.

Hutto thinks the state tech school system’s board, which sets the budgets for South Carolina’s 16 technical colleges, is better able to assess Denmark Tech’s financial condition and recommend instructional areas it should refocus on.

His bill, S.480, is co-sponsored by state Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, D-Colleton.

But Thomas Williams, chairman of the Denmark Tech commission, fears the move could be the first step in closing the school and reassigning students in its three-county service area to other tech colleges.

“I don’t feel like (the state board) can do a better job” than local commissioners, Williams said. “Folks in Columbia think state tech can do things they don’t actually do. ... They don’t actually run technical schools.”

Asked by legislators in December what should be done with Denmark Tech, the state tech board offered closing the school as one option, said state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.

However, that option was not considered when drawing up next year’s budget for the state’s tech colleges.

“I am not in favor of closing Denmark Tech,” Cobb-Hunter said. But, she added, the state tech board could “provide oversight.”

Williams says Denmark Tech could improve its course offerings if it received more money from the state. “We can’t get the funding to improve our lab, but Orangeburg (Tech) built a whole new building.”

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