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College History

From humble beginnings...

If you spend any time at all in Jackson, Macon, Swain Counties or the Qualla Boundary these days, the impact of Southwestern Community College is everywhere.

We provide instruction to roughly 8,000 people annually. Roughly 90 percent of them remain here as the essential fabric that weaves our service area together. Our graduates cut your hair, service your vehicle, prepare fine cuisine, care for you when you're sick, keep you safe... and much, much more.

However, when we first opened our doors more than 55 years ago, our humble beginnings would have made it difficult for anyone to imagine what the future would hold.

On Dec. 1, 1964, even before our first building was completed, we held the very first day of classes. Exactly 193 students were enrolled. Our name was the "Jackson County Industrial Education Center," and we were a satellite of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Institute.

Two years later, we became an independent school and changed our name to Southwestern Technical Institute.

We then evolved to "Southwestern Technical College" (1979), and in 1988 we changed our name to the one we proudly operate under today.

Throughout our history, we've opened our doors to anyone and everyone who wants to improve the quality of their lives through education - and we have always put those students first. We actively respond to and anticipate the educational needs of the communities we serve, offering an ever-evolving range of programs that prepare students to enter the job market, transfer to four-year institutions or achieve other personal and professional goals.

Nationally Recognized Excellence

Today, SCC regularly appears in Top 10 lists compiled by various ranking agencies across the nation. In 2020. ranked Southwestern No. 1 nationally in its list of "The Best Community College & Trade Schools of 2020." More about our recent rankings is listed in the year-by-year history below.

The national recognition comes as SCC administration, faculty and staff members go about accomplishing their mission by annually serving our region through a wide range of academic programs and workforce training at multiple locations throughout our service area.

Our Jackson Campus has grown to 10 buildings that house classrooms, labs, administrative offices, an auditorium and a library. Construction on our new Health Sciences Center was completed in the summer of 2021, allowing the addition of two healthcare training programs (Opticianry and Surgical Technology) - bringing our state-leading total to 16.

Other facilities in the service area include: a Macon Campus and the Public Safety Training Center in Macon County; the SCC Table Gaming School on the Qualla Boundary; as well as the Swain Center, which houses the Outdoor Leadership and Heritage Arts programs near Bryson City in Swain County.

Community Partnership & Fundraising

To support these educational services, Southwestern receives county, state and federal funding. To augment this funding and provide for extensive services, during the past three decades, SCC has sought and received more than $31 million in grant money. These funds have included federal construction grants, Appalachian Regional Commission grants, US Department of Education grants, New Century Scholars, basic education grants and a variety of other sources.

In 2018, SCC secured more than $2 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to assist with construction of the new Health Sciences Center construction.

SCC is also the only community college in the nation to enter into a cooperative science agreement with NASA.

Also, the SCC Foundation, Inc., incorporated in 1973, strives to provide support for needs not covered by public funds or grant monies. Over the years, the SCC Foundation has made significant contributions through student scholarships, equipment donations and capital improvements. A growing number of individuals and businesses regularly support our students and mission through the SCC Foundation.

New Era

In 2011, Dr. Don Tomas became Southwestern's sixth president. From the moment he arrived, Dr. Tomas prioritized access (via growth of the SCC Foundation and student scholarships) - along with maintaining and enhancing a college-wide commitment to student success. Under his leadership, the SCC Foundation has enjoyed exponential growth - awarding more than eight times as much scholarship funding in 2021 as had been available nine years earlier. Total foundation assets have more than doubled in his tenure (from $3.3 million to $7.6 million), and the number of endowed scholarships has nearly tripled (from 21 to 59).

Dr. Tomas has also been instrumental in securing funding for construction of our tenth building - the $22 million Health Sciences Center that has more than 55,000 square feet for classrooms, labs, and faculty offices.

SCC is now better positioned than ever to successfully guide our students and communities into a bright future.

Dr. Don Tomas, SCC President

SCC Timeline

Edward E. Bryson

1963 – In September, Jackson County furnishes 17-acre site for a technical school ... Construction of first building begins.

1964 – First class graduates in May ... On June 1, Edward E. Bryson appointed resident director of Jackson County Industrial Education Center, a satellite of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Institute. The JCIEC opened on Dec. 1 with 60 students enrolled in full-time classes and 133 in short-term classes.

1965 – First building, Vocational Building (now Founders Hall) completed.

1966 – On Feb. 25, Commencement exercises held for 23 students of Class of 1966 at National Guard Armory.

1967 – College becomes independent school on Sept. 5. It was decided the college would also serve Macon and Swain counties and the name was changed to Southwestern Technical Institute.

1968 – College begins classes on Jan. 2 as an independent unit of the NC Department of Community Colleges. First Student Government Association formed and elections held. First meeting of the Board of Trustees was on Jan. 22. William B. Dillard elected chairman. Other members: Odell Shuler, vice-chairman; W. Paul Holt, Jr.; Charles S. Slagle; Walter Jackson; Oscar Ledford; R. Paul Buchanan; Bruce McMurray; George J. Steward; John Wikle; Paul Ellis; and James B. Childress.

1969 – Southwestern became the regional GED testing center.

1970 – Technical Building (now Oaks Hall) completed on Sept. 1.

1971 – College receives accreditation from Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in December.

1973 – Southwestern's Foundation incorporated.

1974 – Services Building (now Bradford Hall) and Carpentry Building (now Maintenance Building) completed ... On May 30, the first on-campus commencement ceremony was held.

1976 – Southwestern's Cherokee Center established and Job Placement Office established at Jackson campus.

1979 – Southwestern's Cherokee Center built at Boys Club Complex.

Norman K. Myers
STC/SCC President

1983 – Learning Resources Center (now the Holt Library) completed.

1984 – Trades Center (now The Summit) completed.

1981 - Norman K. Myers was appointed as the college's president.

1987 – STC Macon County Center opens.

1988 – STC changes name to Southwestern Community College ... SCC Swain County Center opens in Bryson City ... In October, $3.5 million WNC Regional Allied Health and Geriatric Training Center (now Balsam Center) dedicated.

1989 – In April, College opened Child Care Center in Oaks Hall.

Barry W. Russell
SCC President

1990 – SCC Regional Fire and Rescue Training Center opened, later becoming the Public Safety Training Center.

1991 - SCC names Barry W. Russell as its third president.

1994 – Community Link, a fully interactive television system linking 13 educational sites in Western North Carolina became operational ... Regional Law Enforcement Center established in Macon County.

1997 - Dr. Cecil Groves is named Southwestern's president.


Cecil Groves                                                   Richard Collings
SCC President                                                 SCC President
1997-2010                                                       2010-2011

2000 – College receives $10.4 million from state bond referendum funds.

2005 – U.S. Department of Education awards SCC $5.9 million grant, which will be directed to public schools in the college’s three-county service area for GEAR UP (Gaining Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) ... SCC Alum Michell Hicks, Principal Chief of the Cherokee, named National Community College Alumnus of the Year ...Ground broken for New SCC Macon County Center.

2006 – Construction began on SCC Macon Campus ...  SCC achieved superior college recognition by the North Carolina Community College System; Southwestern partnered with the Eastern Band and Western Carolina University to offer an Associate in Fine Arts degree ... Macon Early College was established; it is housed at SCC's Macon Campus ... Southwestern’s partners in BalsamWest FiberNET- Drake Enterprises and the Eastern Band of Cherokee- received the National Council for Resource Development’s prestigious Benefactor Award for their fiber optic network gift to the college.

2007 – Rated number four community college in the nation, according to Washington Monthly ... Achieved superior college recognition for the second year in a row ... New 27,600 square-foot Macon Campus on Siler Road in Franklin opened; Groves Center there is named for Dr. Cecil Groves, former SCC president (1997-2010) ... Two degree programs added: medical assisting and civil engineering technology ... Fine Arts coordinator hired; classes began for the new visual arts program of the Oconaluftee Institute for Cultural Arts ... Student enrollment growth up six percent, setting new records.

2008 – One of only seven of the state's 58 community colleges to achieve Exceptional Designation from the N.C. Community College System ... Dr. Cecil Groves, SCC president, presented the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian honor granted in North Carolina ... Enrollment percentage increase jumped into the double digits ... Library named for Paul Holt, one of the college’s founding fathers

2009 – Enrollment climbed with a 14 percent increase over the previous year; Macon Campus enrollment increased by 18 percent ... New building on the Macon Campus was named in honor of the late Oscar Ledford, one of the college’s founding members ... The Public Safety Training Complex in Macon was named after seven-time SCC board chairman Jerry Sutton.

2010 - SCC was once again ranked high in the Washington Monthly's community college's list, and Southwestern was one of 10 in the NCCCS to earn an exception rating ... Jackson County Early College students and staff moved into their new building on the Jackson Campus ... Richard Collings appointed president.

Dr. Don Tomas
SCC President


  • Dr. Don Tomas was selected as the College's sixth president. Dr. Tomas previously served as Vice President of Instruction at Weatherford College in Weatherford, Texas.
  • SCC embarked upon a long-range strategic planning process to chart a course for the college during the next five years. This planning process was named Vision 2017.
  • Dr. Thom Brooks was named Vice President for Instruction and Student Services and Scott Baker assumed Brooks' former role as Dean of Career Technologies.
  • Southwestern's Emergency Medical Science (EMS) program received national accreditation, making it one of only two nationally accredited programs among EMS programs in North Carolina community colleges.
  • Southwestern's National Park Service Seasonal Law Enforcement Ranger Training program became only the second program of this type among community colleges to become accredited as an NPS-SLET academy.


  • The Burrell Building was completed in 2012, with the official dedication held in July, 2012. The new facility features classrooms, a student bookstore, administrative and faculty offices, and a conference center.
  • Deanne Oppermann, chemistry faculty member at Southwestern, was selected by the North Carolina Community College System as the Outstanding Faculty Member for 2012.
  • As a component of its Title III grant, the college embarked on a major capital “Student Success Campaign” with a goal of creating a $1 million endowment for student scholarships.
  • SCC completed its Fifth Year Report as required by the Commission on Colleges.
  • SCC received a new letterpress that prints the Cherokee syllabary.
  • SCC received $100,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission to fund critical instructional equipment and supplies for “green” education and training.


  • SCC began providing Live Dealer Gaming training for Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.
  • The Board of Trustees gave approval to move forward with the development of a facility master plan to address future expansion at the Macon Campus and the Public Safety Training Center.
  • SCC Leadership was invited to present its Honors Program model at the three most prestigious national conferences for community colleges: American Association of Community Colleges; Association of Community College Trustees; and League of Innovation for Community Colleges.
  • More than $1.5 million in grant funds were secured from Golden Leaf Foundation and Duke Energy. The money will be used for advanced manufacturing and robotics training as well as to enhance SCC’s computer engineering technology and electronics/electrical technology programs.
  • Shuttered 12 years ago due to changes in Medicare funding, the Occupational Therapy Assistant program was reinstated at Southwestern. It officially resumed operation in 2014.
  • Danielle Shomper and Cathy Huntsman became the first students to enroll in the Regionally Increasing Baccalaureate Nurses (RIBN) educational track, which assures them a spot in Western Carolina University’s bachelor’s degree program so long as they fulfill all necessary requirements while working toward their associate’s degrees at SCC.


  • A design by Elizabeth Hammer was selected in April to serve as SCC’s official 50th anniversary logo throughout the 2014-15 academic year. Hammer graduated from SCC’s advertising and graphic design program in May.
  • The Automotive Systems Technology program received a Master Automobile Service Technology accreditation – the highest level of achievement recognized by the National Automotive Technician Education Foundation (NATEF).
  • A series of three political debates were held at the Jackson Campus. Students in Dr. Bucky Dann’s Social Problems class asked questions of candidates for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, N.C. House and N.C. Senate.
  • The Student Success Campaign, the most ambitious fundraising effort in SCC’s history – reached its Phase 1 goal and allowed the college to fully leverage a Title III grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which matched 100 percent of all donations made by Sept. 2014.
  • Tiffany Henry, director of SCC’s Small Business Center, was named Rookie of the Year by North Carolina’s Small Business Center Network after serving more than 800 clients.
  • Second-year students in Southwestern Community College’s Respiratory Therapy program won the state’s Gladiator competition and posted North Carolina’s highest finish (fourth) ever at the national contest in December in Las Vegas.


  • The “Bluegrass, Blue Jeans and Bling” gala raised more than $51,000 to support student scholarships in July. All funds raised went into the SCC Foundation’s Student Success Campaign, which aims to raise more than $1 million.
  • WalletHub named SCC one of the Top 10 community colleges in the nation. The No. 7 ranking marked the third time in nine years SCC has been placed among the Top 10 nationally (Washington Monthly in 2007 and 2010).
  • A $1.4 million grant from NASA in October pushed SCC’s grant award total for 2015-16 to more than $3.5 million. SCC took the lead role in securing the NASA grant on behalf of its partners in the Smoky Mountain STEM Collaborative: the Jackson, Macon, Swain County and Cherokee Central school systems; Appalachian State University; Great Smoky Mountains National Park; NASA Marshall Space Center; and Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute.
  • A statewide study revealed that the college’s overall impact on its service area of Jackson, Macon, Swain Counties and the Qualla Boundary is $126.9 million in added regional income.
  • A record number of employers (75) participated in the college’s 21st annual Job Fair.
  • Thanks to the generosity of faculty and staff, SCC was able to give away a one-year, tuition-and-fees scholarship in addition to other prizes at its 50th anniversary open house celebration, which drew roughly 500 people to the Jackson Campus on April 10.


  • Jackson County voters passed the one-fourth of a penny referendum, which will benefit SCC and the Jackson County Public Schools. The first major project funded through this initiative will be Southwestern’s new health sciences building.
  • Southwestern received more than $525,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission for its “Pathways to Employment, Education and Training for Automotive and Related Industries” program in Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties.
  • For the second straight election cycle, Students in Dr. Bucky Dann’s “Social Problems” class asked questions of candidates for state and county office during a series of three political debates held on our Jackson Campus.
  • During the 2016-17 academic year, Southwestern completed the SACSCOC reaccreditation process.
  • Students in SCC’s respiratory therapy program successfully defended their state title in a hands-on Gladiator competition in February. Earlier in the academic year, the team of Jay Cleary, Matt Hixon, Chase Souza and Kasey Wilson won the statewide “Sputum Bowl” quiz contest then placed fourth in the national competition – matching the success of the 2014-15 SCC team.
  • Voters easily passed the Connect NC bond initiative, providing $7.1 million for SCC to use on construction, renovation and
    repair projects.


  • Students in the Mechatronics Engineering Technology program built a SWAT robot that they donated to the Macon County Sheriff’s office. This device could very well save lives someday in the future.
  • Southwestern hosted its largest-ever job fair in March. Approximately 300 job-seekers were on campus to meet with more than 95 employers. The event was coordinated by Mike Despeaux, director of career services, who worked with newly hired career counselor Jodi Waldroup to hold a pair of smaller “Job Fair Fridays” in April.
  • As the only community college in the nation to have a cooperative science agreement with NASA, SCC led the way in preparing local communities for the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21.
  • Four SCC students launched a high-altitude balloon that captured images of the total solar eclipse as part of a nationwide effort by NASA. Southwestern was the only community college to participate in NASA’s balloon project.
  • During the college’s “Bluegrass, Blue Jeans & Bling” gala on Sept. 16, the SCC Foundation surpassed its goal of setting up the college’s first $1 million endowment to be used primarily for student scholarships.
  • Recent graduate Lori Monigold earned a perfect score on her National Board Physical Therapy Examination.


  • Members of the college’s 100th National Park Service-Seasonal Law Enforcement Training class were honored in a ceremony on April 27. One of only seven colleges in the country to offer NPS-SLET, Southwestern is in its 40th year of providing this program.
  • Regional media outlets, including WLOS-TV out of Asheville, praised the actions of SCC’s Upward Bound staff members who helped keep 12 area high school students safe when their bus caught fire on the way home from a service project in Asheville in late April.
  • Four-hundred-ninety-eight graduates – the most in college history – were honored in three commencement ceremonies on May 12.
  • A memorial service was held for founding SCC Trustee W. Paul Holt on Tuesday, July 3, in Myers Auditorium on the college’s Jackson Campus. Along with several business and educational leaders in Jackson County, Mr. Holt helped establish what was originally known as the Jackson County Industrial Education Center in 1964, and he served on this college’s Board of Trustees for all but 15 months of its existence until the time of his passing – making him the longest-serving Trustee of any community college in the state.
  • In September, the Economic Development Administration awarded more than $2 million in grant funding to assist in the construction of SCC’s New Health Sciences Building.
  • The SCC Foundation’s annual fundraising gala netted more than $72,000 that will be used to support student scholarships. Over the past four years combined, the gala has raised a total of more than $250,000.
  • Tiffany Henry, who oversees SCC’s Small Business Center, received the “State Small Business Center Director Award.” She has won a statewide honor in each of her five years of employment at Southwestern.


  • Southwestern held a Cultural Fusion Festival in March, showcasing a wide variety of dance, music, food and crafts that represent the diverse cultures in this region.
  • Paul Wolf, founding coordinator of SCC’s Outdoor Leadership and Wilderness Therapy programs, received the Rebecca L. Carver ABC’s Award at the 2019 Southeast Regional Conference of the Association for Experiential Education.
  • SCC’s Automotive Systems Technology program received a Master Automobile Service Technology accreditation – the highest level of achievement recognized by the National Automotive Technician Education Foundation.
  • 2013 graduate Kyle Dowling was named recipient of SCC’s inaugural Distinguished Alumni honor. Within six years of earning his associate degree in Emergency Medical Science, Dowling had risen to the level of Paramedic Supervisor and Training Officer for Harris EMS in Sylva.
  • A groundbreaking ceremony was held for Southwestern’s new Health Sciences Center on Monday, May 6.
  • For the fifth straight year, the SCC Foundation’s annual gala set a new fundraising record. The 2019 gala yielded $86,168 – meaning a total of more than $350,000 has been raised for student scholarships since the event’s inception in 2014.
  • Astronomy Instructor Zack Stockbridge led a nationwide “Transit of Mercury” measurement effort as part of SCC’s unique partnership with NASA.


  • ranked SCC as No. 1 in its listing of “The Best Community Colleges & Trade Schools of 2020.” It’s the fourth time in 13 years SCC has been included among the Top 10 colleges in the U.S. (No. 4 by Washington Monthly in 2007; No. 9 by Washington Monthly in 2010; No. 7 by in 2015).
  • For the first time, students in Dr. Bucky Dann’s Social Problems class had the opportunity to question candidates for national office as part of SCC’s biannual debate series. Through September and October, Dr. Dann’s class hosted candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives as well as candidates for the N.C. House, N.C. Senate and Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
  • Our New Century Scholars program celebrated its 25 th anniversary. Founded in 1995 by Dr. Barry Russell, then-SCC President, and Dr. Charles McConnell, former Jackson County Superintendent, New Century Scholars provides the promise of last-dollar tuition assistance and support to middle-school students throughout SCC’s service area.
  • The SCC Foundation awarded a record 142 scholarships totaling $172,000. Counting Student Emergency Fund and New Century Scholars funding, the Foundation awarded more than $200,000 in financial support during a time of uncertainty and hardship.
  • To ensure graduates had an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments with family during the COVID-19 pandemic, Southwestern held its first drive-through commencement ceremonies in August and December.
  • In September, the U.S. Department of Education officially awarded Southwestern $1.6 million to continue its support of the TRIO Student Support Services program, which has served more than 2,000 students since arriving at SCC in 1990.


  • NASA extended its partnership with SCC and the Smoky Mountain STEM Collaborative for five additional years by providing more than $1.5 million in grant funding, which is used to expand STEM efforts throughout the region. Southwestern is the only community college in the nation to have a scientific partnership with NASA.
  • For the first time in college history, SCC was able to provide free tuition to all North Carolina residents who enrolled in at least six hours or more for the 2021-22 academic year.
  • Despite being unable to hold an in-person gala for the second-straight year due to the pandemic, the SCC Foundation raised more than $87,000 from generous “table sponsorships” and a virtual silent auction.
  • SCC received four new Top 10 national rankings, including two overall (No. 6 by and No. 7 by The Associate in Arts degree was ranked best in the nation by, and our Medical Assisting program ranked second by
  • Our $22 million Health Sciences Center opened for students in time for the fall semester. Ten of our 16 Health Sciences programs are housed in this state-of-the-art, 55,000-square foot building.
  • Dr. Tomas and his wife, Allison, are setting up the Allison and Don Tomas Endowed Scholarship Fund in Memory of Amy DuBose McGehee and William Joseph Tomas through the SCC Foundation. It’s the first time an SCC president has set up an endowed scholarship while in office.
  • Southwestern became one of 150 institutions nationwide that have been selected to compete for part of a prestigious $1 million grant from the Aspen Institute.

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