When the economic recession hit over a decade ago, the housing and job markets slowed almost to a halt in many regions of the country. At that time, Blue Ridge Community College started to phase out some of its key programs due to a lack of demand. Instead, it focused its attention on other areas of education.
“But, in recent years, we’ve brought back a lot of those skilled trades to our course offerings, like masonry and plumbing, and also our construction program,” said Lee Anna Haney, director of marketing and communications for BRCC. “The demand for these skilled trades is huge right now. Henderson County has the third lowest unemployment rate in the state. And there are so many great paying jobs open here and around Western North Carolina.”
Serving Henderson and Transylvania counties, BRCC has campuses in Flat Rock, Brevard, and Hendersonville. The college specializes in construction trades, advanced manufacturing, health care, and public safety, among other degree opportunities. Their Fall 2018 enrollment topped more than 2,100 students.
“We’re experiencing some growth in our programs, especially in the courses students are taking while they’re still in high school,” Haney said. “Our health care programs are bursting at the seams. We just received a grant to expand some of our advanced manufacturing programs. And BRCC recently awarded some $500,000 in scholarships to students from our foundation.”
Founded in 1969, BRCC looks at its 50th anniversary as a testament to the school’s steady vision.
“One of the unique things about BRCC is that we’ve only had four college presidents in that entire time,” Haney said. “We’ve had great leadership here—stable leaders who have stayed with the college and saw it through whatever phase was there during their careers. It’s been about keeping us focused on our mission, which is training for jobs in these two counties and meeting the needs of local employers.”
In line with that mission, BRCC has emphasized developing an early presence in the lives of nearby high school students. The college attracts enrollees from Brevard, Rosman, East Henderson, and North Henderson high schools.
“We have BRCC staff members with office spaces in those schools,” Haney said. “The staff members are familiar faces to these high school students. They spend their days answering questions and helping students explore careers and choose college courses while still in high school.”
That kind of sincere interaction is something BRCC also provides to local officials and members of the regional business sector.
“We work hand-in-hand with several economic development departments, local elected officials, and business owners,” Haney said. “We’ve really aimed to ramp up our marketing, recruitment, and community outreach.”
Haney herself is a graduate of Haywood Community College in nearby Clyde. Her education impressed upon her the value of these institutions.
“You can save a lot of money with a two-year transfer degree. For me, I received a business degree right out of high school from HCC, then got a job at BRCC some 30 years ago,” Haney said. “Being part of the community college system is my life’s work. I live and breathe this. We change lives here.”