A Case Study of Abbeville County’s College Promise Scholarship Program
Abbeville County not only has big ideas, they make them happen. The rural county of approximately 25,000 people raised funds that allow every high school graduate to earn a degree at Piedmont Technical College. This has impacted education, workforce development, business development, and opened many doors of opportunity.
Abbeville County, South Carolina is rich in history, natural resources, and has that special small community feel. It is a rural county one hour south of Greenville. The County prides itself on being “A Great Place to Live.” What was once a quiet, out-of-the-way community is now home to new businesses, outdoor lovers, and people who invest heavily in higher education. With the collaboration of public-private partnerships and community-based nonprofits, Abbeville County has successfully implemented a strategic plan that has allowed the County to flourish and celebrate wins that have strengthened the local economy and enhanced quality of life.
An important action item from Abbeville County’s 2016 Economic Development Strategic Plan was the creation of the Abbeville College Promise program. This program ensures that every graduating student from the Abbeville County School System has the opportunity to obtain a two-year degree from Piedmont Technical Community College. Students apply for funds to close the gap between scholarships, grants, and loans and the cost of tuition. Now, every student who graduates from the Abbeville County School System has a chance to further their education beyond high school. Stephen Taylor, Economic Development Director of Abbeville County, spoke to the significance of creating the College Promise program, workforce development, and product development and shared advice for other EDOs questioning how to take the next step in implementing an effective strategic plan with attainable goals.
In just a year and a half after implementation of their strategic plan started, Abbeville County surpassed their goal of raising $1.2 million for the College Promise Scholarship Program. Stephen Taylor says Abbeville County’s economic development organization could not have done this on their own. “I can’t say enough about the local leadership that really took the reins on this project and ran with it,” Taylor said. Additionally, partnerships with the Freshwater Coast Community Foundation and community-based nonprofits helped lead the effort behind the College Promise Program. The Freshwater Coast Community Foundation engaged a fundraising firm to complete an assessment of how much could be raised for the College Promise Program. The group then engaged the fundraising firm to raise the $1.2 million to launch the program. As a result of the fundraising campaign and promotion of the College Promise Program, the public has become more aware of what is happening with economic development in the county and the need for workforce development. Abbeville County has been able to leverage their strategic plan by utilizing private-public collaboration to access money and tools they may not have had on their own as a rural community.
The Abbeville College Promise Program is accomplishing its goals. The community saw a 57% increase in the number of Abbeville County graduates (current graduates and from previous years) applying for the program in 2019. Manufacturing and healthcare are popular fields with 24% of students studying healthcare, 27% studying industrial engineering, and other students studying computer technology and more. It is well known that workforce development is key to recruiting and retaining businesses. “When new companies come to our county and see our Technical College and EDO working together and on the same page, prospects know what we have to offer,” Taylor explains.
Taylor points to the College Promise Program as a driver behind enhancing the quality of life through developing a skilled workforce. The hopes for the County were to build a stronger workforce, and in turn, build a stronger community. “One thing we have done really well here is workforce programming. Abbeville County hopes to retain their younger community by offering the chance of furthering their education”.
Taylor also recommends having a clear blueprint and making sure goals and objectives are obtainable. He also suggests working with a consulting firm to facilitate the strategic plan process. The process leverages partnerships, listens to leaders in the community, and builds consensus so champions can push projects forward. The Abbeville County strategic plan has 21 objectives in business, workforce, and product development. One important objective was the formation of a public-private nonprofit partnership for economic development that has advanced the goals of the strategic plan.
Finally, Taylor added, “How do you stand out as a rural community? Market your blueprint.” In addressing hurdles and naysayers, Taylor offers “you have to paint the picture of ‘let’s not point out the bad, but let’s try to do some things differently.’” For a smaller community, Taylor suggests a strategic plan that is ‘short, sweet, and simple’. Celebrating quick wins, leveraging partnerships, and looking to community leaders helped Abbeville County’s College Promise Program come to fruition. Their success offers an idea of what is possible for other small, rural communities.