Local residents voice concern about Lubbock expansion

The South Plains College Board of Regents recently played hosts for a public forum to discuss issues such as the college potentially adding another campus in Lubbock and a need to attract more students to the Levelland campus.

Approximately 100 members of the Levelland community met with the Board during an early-morning session held on March 28 in the Sundown Room of the Student Center Building on the Levelland campus.

During the March meeting of the Regents two week earlier, Joe D. Brooks, a Levelland resident, discussed issues about the college’s potential move to downtown Lubbock.

While Brooks spoke, he asked for transparency from the college’s leadership, especially when it came to the decision-making process for another Lubbock campus.

“Some things develop over time,” Brooks said during the public forum. “But if no one is going to show up at meetings or question people, whose fault is it? This is on all of our shoulders, and the Board even agreed that they need to be more transparent and let the people know what they are doing and why they are doing it.”

At the conclusion of the March Regents meeting, Brooks asked the Board for growth on the Levelland campus in terms of more classes being offered, rather than expanding in Lubbock.

“I know there has been a lot of discussion about South Plains College over the past few weeks, and I want you to know that we are listening,” said Dr. Robin Satterwhite, addressing the audience at the morning forum. “First and foremost, the conclusion we came to is that we need to hit the pause button, and we need to hope and make sure there is understanding and an agreement on the direction of the college and that our Regents have some more time to discuss it.”

Dr. Satterwhite later expressed that he felt very strongly about his opinions about SPC’s presence in Lubbock and how he feels that the college can reach more students. However, the Board needs to come up with a strategy to reach those students.

During the public forum, Dr. Satterwhite discussed how renovating Lubbock City Hall and turning it into classrooms could help students and shift arts and sciences classes from two buildings on the Reese Center campus to downtown Lubbock. This could help future students who are not able to drive to Levelland.

Dr. Satterwhite also articulated ways the Boards plans to expand the Levelland campus and how they are going to draw more students to the Levelland community.

“What I have discovered from this whole discussion is that everyone loves South Plains College,” said Dr. Satterwhite. “That’s probably the most prevalent message that I have heard throughout this entire discussion.”

Brooks explained it was time for all members of the community and the employees of South Plains College to come together and help the Levelland campus grow.

“I think it shows that we need to claim it if we’re all going to be involved,” said Brooks. “When you look across this room, there’s not a better room of people anywhere, a better room of leadership and people who can make opportunities.”

Brooks acknowledged that SPC needs a strong relationship with Texas Tech University, but stated that, economically speaking, the best thing Levelland has is South Plains College.

He explained that it is not Lubbock’s intention to compete with Levelland. However, some of Lubbock’s leaders feel that they deserve a community college.

“We have agreed to sit down with all of you to listen and put groups together and really try to find ways to overcome some of these obstacles,” he stated.

When the meeting was opened for questions and comments, Billy Mack Palmer, a Levelland resident, stated the importance that students have on local restaurants and how the loss of these students have greatly impacted the local economy.

“Students are leaving campus on Thursday, and coming back on Sunday,” said Palmer. “There is also no night classes offered, and with them not here, it’s hard to pick up any business.”

He went on to say that when SPC went to a four-day schedule, it had a negative impact on local businesses.

Dr. Satterwhite responded by saying that there are some classes that are offered Monday-Wednesday-Friday, and there are students taking those courses.

Dr. Satterwhite also pointed out that students stopped signing up for night classes because more students are taking classes online. He explained that if SPC did not offer online courses, then they would lose more students who would decide to take their classes at another community college that offers what they want.

Dave Cleavinger, professor of agriculture at SPC, noted that the change in classes was driven by the students not signing up for the three-day classes, adding that it was because of students who are supporting themselves with jobs or other reasons.

Pat Sykora with Smith South Plains mentioned the importance of the college’s local automotive program, which has been duplicated at the Lubbock campus, and how more students are attending those courses rather than in Levelland.

Annette Sykora of Smith South Plains added that the automotive industry faces a shortage of 37,000 technicians almost every year, and she worries the local automotive program at SPC will deteriorate.

“This is a concern of ours,” said Annette Sykora. “We need to make sure that if we do something on one campus, that it doesn’t make this campus deteriorate.”

Dr. Satterwhite responded to this by saying that the duplication will be revisited, and that they should be careful not to duplicate programs within driving distance.

Eric Rejino, city manager of Levelland, noted that the college’s future is a community-wide issue, and that the city is coming up with new opportunities for growth.

Richard Husen, an attorney in Levelland, said that times have changed, with more college students having to work to afford to go to college.

“There are some things we can be proactive in,” Husen said, “but, there are things we can only be reactive in. If we sit down and look at the records for SPC, I think we’ll find that more and more students are supporting themselves. But this also ties back to the reason why we are at a three-to-four day class schedule.”

The forum concluded with Mike Box, chairman of the Regents, saying, “I am proud to see how many seats are filled this morning. If you look up here, there is not a person up here that you can’t talk to. We need more participation from everyone in the community, from the school district, from the hospital, from the county, and the city. We’re all in this together; this is our town.”