On. Nov. 1, Henry Giles will officially become the president of Spartanburg Community College.
He will be charged with guiding the institution through an obstacle course of challenges including slashes to state funding, growing enrollment, increased community expectations and an evolving economy.
Compared to the students, though, Giles said he thinks he has the easy job.
“The students who come through here are just amazing,” Giles said. “I don't know how they do it.”
As a community college, Giles said SCC's mission is to be the most accessible portal to higher education in Spartanburg County. Students come to SCC with a host of challenges; finances, child care, learning deficiencies, or a general lack of direction. Regardless of their constraints, Giles said it is the college's duty to help them become responsible and productive citizens.
“We think we are this community's door to higher education for at least 80 percent of students,” Giles said. “A lot of them finish high school without a clue to figuring out what they're going to do.”
As president, Giles said he has three goals: to be the community's preferred institution for higher education because of the breadth of programs; be the business and industry community's preferred institution for skill training and continuing education; and be seen as a full partner in the community in terms of economic development and higher education.
Giles was chosen unanimously from more than 100 applicants for the heavy responsibility because of his “leadership, experience and vision,” according to a statement from the Spartanburg County Commission for Technical and Community Education.
A search committee brought the commission four finalists.
“We had four well-qualified candidates and all four could have done the job,” chairman of he commission Bruce Johnson said.
Still, he said he was very happy when the commission decided to choose Giles.
“We feel like we picked the best possible person for the college, for the students and for the faculty. A lot of the reason behind this was his knowledge of the college. He knew the state and he knows the area,” Johnson said.
Johnson said Giles is well-respected and well-liked on campus. At a faculty meeting Friday when Giles thanked the notes of support and congratulatory remarks he's gotten in the hall, he received a standing ovation.
When Giles came to SCC in 1969 as a math teacher, he said the school's mission was strictly focused on economic development and technical education; teaching students specific skills to help them get manufacturing jobs.
As the textile mills closed and the community began to recognize the need to diversify its economy, SCC began focusing more on general education and liberal arts to teach “problem solving skills of tomorrow, not today,” he said.
Now, the college serves both missions with skill-based programs and two-year preparatory programs for students aiming to attain bachelors' degrees.
“If it's done well, it should allow students to move through program to program until they find out what they want to be when they grow up,” Giles said.
Giles, 66, served as the vice president for development and academic affairs and was the executive vice president for business affairs before he was named interim president in February, after then-President Para Jones resigned and accepted a new job. Giles is a native of Cowpens, obtained his bachelor's degree from Wofford College and his master's degree from Converse College. He has worked his entire career at SCC with the exception of one year as a math teacher in the public school system.
“I hope that I'm a steadying effect on the college,” Giles said. “I've seen where we've come from and I know what our role is in the community.”
Giles said he hopes his experience and roots in the college will help him reconcile a Spartan budget and the demands for capital improvements and more capacity.
Spartanburg County is dedicated to the goal of doubling the number of residents with higher education degrees by 2030, and Giles said he foresees the potential for explosive economic growth in high-skill manufacturing jobs in the area. SCC will play an important part in meeting those demands, he said.
“It's going to be a challenge, but the community needs this college and the community needs us to serve more people,” he said.