By AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley
Photography provided by Midlands Technical College
Most collegiate presidential positions have perks: community engagement, student interaction, and maybe even a great parking spot. But for Dr. Ronald Rhames, president and alumnus of Midlands Technical College, the best thing about his role is seeing new graduates’ faces when he shakes their hands during commencement.
“I now get to see the same hope and optimism in students that I too experienced,” Rhames says. “It is amazing. Knowing they’ve been prepared by the best faculty and staff, I know that they’re going to succeed and achieve their own individual dreams.”
Midlands Technical College is a public two-year community college that serves Richland, Fairfield, and Lexington counties. The college offers more than 120 degree, diploma, and certificate programs across six different campuses.
While his career began in banking, Rhames has spent the majority of his career in higher education serving the region in which he grew up.
“When I first started my professional career, I don’t think I dreamt of being a college president,” he says. “At that time, my interest was business. At some point, I thought I’d still be a banker today.”
Rhames left banking to serve as vice president of fiscal affairs at Claflin University and then joined MTC’s senior management team in 1990 as senior vice president. He was selected as president in March 2015.
“When I found myself in higher education, that put me on a different path,” he says. “It’s been the most rewarding journey I think you could have. Growing up during the times that I grew up, before the integration of schools, it was really difficult to dream and to see a future beyond that. The journey’s just been amazing.”
Along with serving as president, Rhames is on the board for the American Association of Community Colleges and served as the chair of the board of directors of the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
It’s still the beginning of his presidential tenure, but Rhames has already expanded MTC’s network by partnering with as many colleges and universities as possible to increase the opportunities available to students wishing to graduate with a four-year degree.
“We’ve partnered with most of the major colleges and universities in the state,” Rhames says. The exhaustive list of state colleges and universities includes Benedict College, Claflin University, Coker College, College of Charleston, Lander University, Newberry College, and the University of South Carolina, and as of earlier this year, S.C. State University and Columbia College.
“The partnerships are important because we’re providing pathways for our students who want to move on in their careers and become even more competitive,” he says.
Rhames recognizes that it can be difficult to compete with the conventions of four-year colleges and universities, but he says that MTC makes up for it in quality.
“We don’t have the traditional college experience that you would see, like dormitories and athletics,” he says. “What we do have are quality programs, well-qualified faculty, and personalized attention. When we think of our employee satisfaction rate among our graduates, we know that we’re doing the right thing. We know that we can help people reach their dreams.”
MTC is also a more affordable option for both students and tax-payers.
“When [students] come to us for those first two years, they’re getting a great education for a great value, and in most cases, they’ll leave us with little to no debt,” Rhames says.
To keep tuition affordable and to meet the workforce demands, Rhames said that now more than ever the college is dependent on private support and increased enrollment.
“Our goal is focusing on getting the community to invest in their college,” he says. “With the economy being as robust as it is, educating and training workers for the wide variety of industries that we serve in the Midlands is the challenge. There are a lot of quality jobs that are looking for employees with specific skill sets. So we need to find the students who are interested in being trained and prepared to fill those jobs…[We’re] working on convincing students that if they complete the process, they will be successful.”
Rhames says he has loved his journey so far and enjoys the role he currently plays in helping students young and old become more competitive in our global society.
“Our students are as diverse as the communities we serve,” he says. “We have high school graduates, military veterans, mid-life career changing adults, and everything in between. What’s most important is that MTC serves everyone and is here to help the students who will be building the workforce of tomorrow.”