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State Budget Includes $25 Million for New ‘Early College’ at SCC

This year’s North Carolina budget includes a $25 million appropriation for an auxiliary high school on the campus of Sandhills Community College for vocational-track students. The appropriation is included in the biennial budget.

The funding, proposed by state Sen. Tom McInnis and Rep. Neal Jackson, both of whom represent Moore County, provides a grant for SCC to apply toward capital costs or equipment for a new vocation career path early college high school.

High school students can enroll with the potential to earn both a diploma and a college associate’s degree by the time they graduate. Some students could also earn licenses and credentials for vocational jobs.

“The emphasis is going to be on vocational and career and technical training,” said McInnis. “We’re going to be trying to create a criteria and a curriculum that would match our local requirements and local needs for jobs.”

Moore County Board of Education chairman Robert Levy hailed the program, saying he sees lots of potential for the envisioned future school.

“We want to have a broad curriculum,” he said. “There is potential to go way beyond the traditional (Certified Nursing Assistant), plumbing and facility work and train skills for advanced manufacturing jobs.”

This initiative represents a partnership among state lawmakers, Sandhills Community College, Moore County and Moore County Schools.

“It is going to be exciting to see the advantage that comes with this project,” said Sandy Stewart, recently installed as SCC’s new president. The new school “could mean big things for the college.”

SCC is no stranger to working with the local school system. It currently hosts high school juniors and seniors on its campuses who are enrolled in several tracks of advanced learning for several paths, including college, medical trades and vocational training. The college, which also serves Hoke County, has a similar program there.

“Sandhills already has one very successful early college at our Hoke Center — SandHoke Early College — a partnership with the Hoke County School System, so we know how to make this model work,” Stewart said. “We are really excited about partnering with Moore County Schools to provide direct pathways to great vocational employment opportunities for these students, right out of high school.”

At full enrollment capacity, the new early college high school at SCC will be able to serve 400 students. It will be designed to draw students interested more in career paths than a traditional four-year college path.

“It will be its own school,” said Moore County Schools Superintendent Tim Locklair. “Though, a hurdle to overcome is staffing, and making sure we get teachers into the school. We will have to name it as well.”

Talks for a project of this size and strategy have been discussed for nearly a decade. It was previously referred to as the Advanced Career Center and was devised as a “concept” high school that would serve students from Pinecrest, Union Pines and North Moore on a campus adjacent to Sandhills Community College.

The Board of Education in recent months has begun talking about new construction priorities. Included in those talks has been ways to relieve crowding at Pinecrest and Union Pines.

“Our workforce community here is growing,” said Stewart. “There are businesses in Moore County and around us that will need this kind of training.”

Along with relieving crowding at Pinecrest, Union Pines and North Moore, the school could offer advanced technical classes and vocational training not offered at all three high schools.

“With companies like VinFast and Wolfspeed and Toyota moving into the state,” said Jackson, “we could not be more pleased with the possibility of this school.”

VinFast, a Vietnamese manufacturer of electric vehicles, recently broke ground on a massive automotive manufacturing site in Chatham County, about 30 miles north of Moore County. Durham-based Wolfspeed is building a multi-billion-dollar fabrication facility for silicon carbide computer chips in Siler City, also about 30 miles north of Moore’s northern border. And Toyota is well into building an electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant in Liberty, about 40 minutes from Southern Pines, and a number of economic recruiters believe the company will eventually build full vehicles there, as well.

Those three projects alone, at full employment, will need more than 10,000 workers. But that’s not all. The company Boom Technology has announced plans to build a new supersonic passenger plane at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro later this decade. And Apple has begun working on a large new campus in Research Triangle Park with an announced plan to hire more than 3,000 workers.

“Workforce training for Moore County, especially at the high school and college level, is critical to the continued economic growth of our region,” said Moore County Commissioners Chairman Nick Picerno.

McInnis continues to emphasize hiring and the need to train workers to take advantage of new-economy employment opportunities.

“These career paths are in incredible demand in our region and across the state,” he said.

(Article by Elena Marsh, The Pilot)

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