Half a century ago, when community colleges were being formed across the United States, “We weren’t big visionaries,” Neyle Wilson recalls. To qualify for a technical college in South Carolina, “an area needed X-number of manufacturing firms” for every 100,000 population.
Wilson is retiring as president of Horry-Georgetown Technical College. He started teaching at HGTC in 1970 and held several administrative positions prior to being named president in 2002. Along the way, he became a visionary of sorts for vocational education and its role in economic development.
“We absolutely made the perfect choice when we hired him,” HGTC Area Commission Chairman Tommy Branyon told The Sun News for a profile of Wilson at the time his retirement was announced. “He’s done an outstanding job for us at the college.”
The “us” includes the geographical area of Horry and Georgetown counties, and the students trained for a variety of jobs that have made and will make them productive workers in their careers, or prepared them for earning degrees at four-year institutions such as Coastal Carolina University.
Wilson helped developed the Early College High School program, which helps high school students earn two years of college credit. Many have benefited by starting their college education at HGTC, then transferring to a university. The fact is, many people with bachelor of science degrees have huge debt loads from college loans and may be under-employed at jobs not much related to a degree in biology, English literature or journalism. As Wilson put it in a recent swan song talk to the Rotary Club of Little River, our area may have the best-educated wait staff in the world. Hold on, this is not meant to demean a four-year degree. Those educated in liberal arts or sciences benefit intellectually, regardless of their employment. However, the financial costs, including years of debt, must be weighed.
“But it’s difficult to tell mom, `Your son has a better shot at being a welder or machinist.’ ”
That’s part of the challenge for vocational education. Major employers – Boeing in Charleston County is a prime example – are looking for workers skilled in machine tool technology, instrumentation and robotics. HGTC is building training facilities in Horry and Georgetown counties that will train workers on equipment found in high-tech industries.
“The elephant in the room is the workforce,” Wilson said. “We have to figure out how to educate high school students and their moms and dads” about employment.
Boeing has told suppliers to not locate too close to North Charleston, Wilson said, because Boeing and its suppliers will have to compete for the same skilled workers. This could be an economic boon for the Grand Strand. “I think we’re going to see things really improve.”
Wilson retires in a few days, knowing he has built HGTC in positive ways, including consistently high job placement rates in areas such as health care. When he started teaching, he was impressed by older students in his classes. He remembers them and younger ones as he retires. “You know you’ve been blessed when you see the success” of students.
Path to HGTC presidency
A native of Sumter, Neyle Wilson graduated from Clemson University in 1970 with a degree in agriculture (major in forest management). He had not planned on teaching but took a job at Horry-Georgetown Technical College. He soon was hooked on teaching.
He received a master’s degree (education administration) from the University of South Carolina and a doctorate of public service from Coastal Carolina University.
At HGTC, he was been dean of continuing education, vice president of academic affairs, senior vice president of academic affairs and finance, interim president and president. Marilyn Fore will succeed Wilson as president.