American College of the Building Arts graduate Margaret Ann Conlon is venturing out into the professional world with a degree in architectural stone work and a set of chisels.
She learned how to pick out the right mallet and perform a delicate set of taps during her four-year education at the young Charleston-based institution, which trains artisans and encourages historic preservation.
"It's knowing how the stone will behave," said Conlon, a Greenville native who hopes to work on the restoration of Kansas' Capitol building or with a Madison, Wis. stonework company.
She and eight other students graduated Saturday during what marked the second graduation ceremony for the private, liberal arts college, which opened in 2005.
The school is the only one in the country that offers a bachelor's degree program in traditional building arts such as plastering, ironwork and masonry. And though the school lacks formal accreditation, college officials stressed during the ceremony that graduating students don't face a job search despite the economic crunch.
"Not many colleges can say this but every single one of our graduates is going off to work in the next few weeks ... because there is a huge need for what they do," college president Colby Broadwater told the audience, triggering a standing ovation.
Plaster working student Cody Donahue, for example, is bidding on work for a historic home restoration in Walterboro.
Carpentry student Amanda Bassett of Lakeland, Fla. said she wants to pursue staircase restoration in historic homes, following in the footsteps of her grandfather.
This year, 43 students were enrolled at the school. College officials are trying to earn pre-accreditation status from the American Academy for Liberal Education, which could happen as early as September.
Simeon Warren, dean of the college, said that after the school earns pre-accreditation, it likely would take about two more years to become fully accredited.
If the college jumps that hurdle, students will be eligible for federal financial aid and student loan programs.
Broadwater has said that achieving pre-accreditation status will bring in more students, and that will help the school financially. The college has struggled in recent years to cover basic expenses and pay its employees.
Many universities will not accept coursework from colleges that aren't accredited, Warren said. That could make it difficult for students who want to pursue additional higher education.
But, he said, after a school is fully accredited, that designation applies to all previous graduates.
For Conlon, the school's lack of accreditation wasn't an issue. She had scholarship money to help fund her education, and she said the field of study drew her in.
"I was more interested in what they teach rather than transferring credits," she said.