College presidents form coalition to address Lowcountry workforce demand

Anita Zucker, CEO of The InterTech Group

As the Lowcountry prepares for tens of thousands of new science and technology jobs in the years ahead, presidents of seven colleges in South Carolina have agreed to form a consortium focused on aligning their degree programs with the needs of the region’s future workforce.

Formed under the direction of businesswoman Anita Zucker and her organization the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, the coalition includes the presidents of Charleston Southern University, The Citadel, Clemson University, College of Charleston, Medical University of South Carolina, Trident Technical College and the University of South Carolina.

“I think the future is in collaboration. It’s not in competition and duplication,” said College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell. “And I think what we need to look at is how we take our institutions and wisely use them to fill the needs of our region as they become available. I just don’t think that schools need to be duplicating what another school is doing.”

According to the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, 25,000 new jobs will come to the Lowcountry by 2018, many in the fields of industrial production, computer software, science and engineering. Zucker, CEO of the North Charleston-based conglomerate InterTech Group, said colleges should revive “dead majors,” so local college graduates can fill the workforce talent gaps.

“Look at what’s happening in Charleston, in this region. We have so many new businesses coming online. We need to make certain we provide the trained workforce,” she said. “We have to make certain that we are providing our young people with the skills necessary to hold the positions in these fields.”

In addition to improving their schools’ degree programs, the consortium members have pledged to work together to encourage more students to finish their degrees, and close college enrollment and completion disparities between white students and students of color.

“We’re evaluating our operations so that we can align both with our mission as a liberal arts college and the mission of the business community to match higher education to the needs of this region,” McConnell said. He pointed to the College of Charleston’s new supply chain logistics major — the only undergraduate program of its kind offered in the state — and efforts to expand the computer science department. “We feel like we’re doing what we can do.”

In a statement to The Post and Courier, Trident Technical College President Mary Thornley said forming the consortium “will also hold us all accountable to the citizens of Lowcountry” in reaching their goals.

“I’m personally very open, very excited. I think it’s essential,” said MUSC President David Cole about the consortium’s future. “We are a small state. We need to be the best possible ... The most significant opportunity being wasted is the lack of opportunity to educate our young.”

Cynthia Roldan contributed reporting. Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764.