Midlands Tech Branches Out

By TIM FLACH - tflach@thestate.com

Pat Lever got an early look at Midlands Technical College's newest campus, opening today in Batesburg-Leesville.

She is among nine students whose early childhood education classes — held previously at local schools — moved into the $1.35 million building three weeks early.

"It's wonderful, up-to-date," Lever said of the new facility. "It has all the latest bells and whistles."

Lever will be joined by about 60 other students for the mid-semester opening of the new college.

The campus is the first in a series of small satellites Midlands Tech plans to open.

Its arrival fulfills community leaders' longtime dream for a local center of higher education in an area of farms and small towns.

"If we have any say about it, they'll be adding a second building soon," said Jerry McSwain, executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce. "It's a golden opportunity for the community to show Midlands Tech made the right decision in coming here."

The school provides an affordable and convenient option for students.

A semester's tuition for a full-time student who lives in Lexington, Richland or Fairfield counties is $1,572 at Midlands Tech. Full-time tuition for an in-state resident at USC is $3,973.

Town leaders want the school to train people to work for local industries and create an employee base to attract more industry.

For Midlands Tech, the campus fills a void on the western edge of Lexington County, which is expected to become more suburban in the next 20 years.

"We don't get nearly the number of students from there that we ought to," Midlands Tech president Sonny White said. "So we are taking it to them."

The 8,000-square-foot facility in Batesburg-Leesville — built through a partnership with Town Hall — sits in a corner of Old Leesville College Park.

The town is renting the property to the college for 99 years for $1 annually. Town officials also will pitch in on upkeep and sprucing up Haynes Auditorium for the college's use.

Adam Shealy plans to transfer to the campus in his hometown, cutting his 45-minute commute to Midlands Tech's Airport campus to a six-block walk from the electronics store where he works.

The commute on top of work is tiring and expensive, he said. "It's like I'm cramming it in," Shealy said of classes. "And it's a long drive, a lot of gas a week."

Lever says it's easier to travel to the new site from her home in Newberry and her job near Gilbert.

Both Shealy, 18, and Lever, who says she is in her 40s, are typical Midlands Tech students, college officials said.

About 400 students from the area attend other Midlands Tech campuses, officials say.

The school helps raise the profile of the town of 5,500, Mayor James Wiszowaty said.

"It's an all-around win for us," he said.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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