Colleges along Hwy 501 pave road to bright futures

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - There's a stretch of Highway 501 in Conway you could call the "Higher Education Corridor," with three institutions of higher learning less than a mile apart.

Coastal Carolina University, Horry-Georgetown Technical College and Miller Motte Technical College all say they're thriving right now and seeing record enrollment.

The founders of Coastal Carolina University dreamed of bringing higher education to Horry County. They probably wouldn't believe that 50 years later, there are three schools almost next door to each other.

"We are a medium sized university, state university, typical in so many respects but we do have a great attraction," CCU professor Roy Talbert points out.

That attraction, the beach, is one of the reasons Horry County's population exploded, and it's been felt by the schools that serve the area.

"Our growth follows the pattern of the Grand Strand. That take off was in the 90s," Professor Talbert affirms.

Horry-Georgetown Technical College's main campus, right next to CCU, also saw enrollment jump and HGTC's president Neyle Wilson agrees, it's simply a reflection of the community's growth. Wilson says the school's founders chose Conway because Highway 501 was the only main thoroughfare in the early 60's and they needed the support of a Pee Dee county to open.

"They actually had to ask Marion County to come in, to create the 100,000 population you had to have in order to establish a technical college back in 1966. So it was Horry-Georgetown-Marion Technical Education Center. It took about a 20 foot wall to put our sign up," laughs President Wilson.

Today, HGTC enrolls about 8,000 students at it's Conway campus and transfers more students to CCU than any other school.

Just down Highway 501, Miller Motte Technical College started offering classes in April 2010.

Miller Motte's Campus Director Meredith Kennedy says they wanted to be in Conway to fulfill the needs of everyone in the area.

"We draw from students who are out in the country, also in surrounding counties, so we didn't want to get all the way into Myrtle Beach. We wanted to really stay more in the center," Kennedy comments.

And that's not the only reason. Miller Motte sought out Conway because of the two other schools flourishing nearby.

And Kennedy admits, she doesn't consider the schools competitors.

"We really focus more on the career, so we spend time talking to students before they enroll to make sure they understand we're not a transfer school. We're here just to help them get into the career they want and get working again," Kennedy answers.

She adds Miller Motte's variety of programs, from medical to cosmetology, massage therapy and esthetics technology, attracts so many students that they're seeing record enrollment.

On the campus of HGTC, President Wilson says his school's course offerings like healthcare, culinary arts and golf course programs are driving the jobs in this area.

"What they're saying is 65% of jobs that are in development today require a two year degree, not a four year degree. We think parents and students need to understand that if you want to stay in Horry County, our program mix is designed for jobs that exist here," argues President Wilson.

Even though all three schools are enrolling more students than ever... Their leaders don't plan to stop building and growing.

CCU is preparing to offer its first PhD program for marine sciences, its premier degree. And HGTC is planning to undertake a two year campaign to try and raise $3 million for its premier culinary arts program.

They hope to build a brand new facility on the Grand Strand campus that would allow them to raise enrollment from about 170 right now to 400.

Copyright 2012 WMBF News. All rights reserved.