What is the value of Panola College to the region it serves? To the students planning to earn bachelor’s degrees, it’s a head start on completing basic courses at an affordable rate. For the ones who want to go straight to work after high school, it’s a training ground for the skills they need. For the people who want to become nurses or occupational therapists, it’s the educational opportunities and laboratory experience required for the health care profession. For the adults who never learned to read, Panola offers free adult basic education.
For those who never finished high school, Panola offers free GED classes. For those who need help improving their English-language skills, Panola has free ESL classes.
Panola College offers all that, and more. “Speaking personally, Panola allowed my parents to reach their goal of a bachelor’s degree for both of us kids…with no debt. (And my dad always enjoyed the basketball games!) Panola College is one of the best things Carthage has to offer,” said John Worley.
Affordability is high on the list when people consider a community college. Tuition and fees at Panola College are significantly lower than four-year universities, plus many students can save more money by living at home or in Panola’s on-campus residence halls. “Panola has helped thousands of people get an affordable education,” said Janet Boone. “It is definitely an asset to our community! Without Panola it would have been much harder for me to have gotten my degree. We didn’t have online classes back then.”
Smaller class sizes appeal to first-time college students. “Panola College gave me a sense of family because of the size. If you needed to talk, people were there for you. You get more one-on-one with the professors. As an adult going back to school after a very long period of time, it didn’t scare or stress me out. I loved being a student there. It opened so many doors for me,” Melissa Espinoza said.
Dual enrollment courses have grown in popularity, and Panola College has worked closely with high schools in the area to streamline the process. Angie Musgrove, former counselor at Carthage High School, now directs the college’s dual enrollment program. Polly Acker Maines praised the program. “Having a local community college was paramount in preparing my child for moving away to a university. She was able to ‘test the waters’ by taking dual credit classes in high school. Because we have a local community college, she was able to experience actual college life, and have actual college professors teaching the classes. Her community college experience gave her the confidence she needed to be successful in a larger university.”
Kimberly Collins Davis agreed. “The advantages offered to high school kids to complete the dual credit courses is a major benefit. Many graduate high school with some college already under their belt, while others graduate high school and then junior college immediately after, therefore motivating them to go ahead and further their education. I wish this had been offered when I was in school.”
Community colleges give students an inside look at what college is all about and can help them determine the pathway for their futures. Karen Whiteside McAlister said, “It’s a great way to get some college credit without spending a lot of money. It’s about one-third to one-half the cost of a university. Plus, it’s close to home, so you don’t have the cost of housing or commuting. It also gives students an opportunity to see what college classes are like before heading off to a bigger city and investing a lot of money only to find that a particular major or big city lifestyle does not suit them.”
Students who earn their associate degrees at Panola College are considered core-complete at any state university in Texas. “Both of my kids took advantage of the dual credit classes that were offered while they were at CHS and then attended Panola for a year before moving on to a major college,” Marsha Barden said.
Transition to universities has been made easier through articulation agreements with Stephen F. Austin State University, the University of Texas at Tyler, the University of North Texas, Sam Houston State University, and East Texas Baptist University. Courses have been compared and approved for transfer by these universities, so that students may focus on upper level course work once they reach the university.
The Texas Education Agency, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and the Texas Workforce Commission have collaborated to develop pathways for students to ensure college and career readiness. Part of this new initiative involves bringing junior high school students to the Panola College campus to get a glimpse of the variety of programs and careers available.
Panola’s associate of applied science and certificate programs offer a shorter track to career readiness through diverse programs including welding, petroleum technology, medical coding, and cosmetology, among others. “The one and two-year certificate and associate degree programs provide a fantastic, affordable opportunity for many residents to increase their marketable job skills and earning power,” Karen added.
In addition to the academic and technical areas, Panola College brings a vibrant fine arts and athletics program to the community. The chorale, Panola Pipers and band offer frequent concerts and other musical events, including the annual “Christmas in Carthage” extravaganza that involves other community groups.
Antione Morrow came to Panola College on a band scholarship after graduating from Elysian Fields High School. “We didn’t have much at that time in order for my family to support my decision to go to college. My band director, Ty Hood, mentioned the band scholarship program at Panola, and in fall 2009, I was a Panola College student. It was one of the greatest decisions I’ve made. I’ve met hundreds of people that I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t choose to be a part of the Panola College community.”
After taking some time off, Antione went to ETBU in Marshall and will graduate in December. “Panola College played a key part in helping me decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I will always be proud to be a Pony!”
Endowed scholarships through the Panola College Foundation, along with fine arts and athletics scholarships provide funds for talented students. “Panola College offered me a full ride,” said Rodger McLane. “Panola allows you to get your feet wet with college and introduces you to college work and life. I’ll always be thankful to the college and my journalism teacher.”
Panola College athletes showcase college-level sports in the A.J. Johnson Gymnasium, at the ballpark and at the rodeo arenas. “The student athletes volunteer with the youth in our schools, giving them a glimpse into life outside of Carthage and exposing them to other cultures with students from abroad,” said Emily McMillan.
Two recipients of athletic scholarships are now working as teacher-coaches in Texas. Josie Santos came to Panola on a volleyball scholarship, and Thomas Orr came on a men’s basketball scholarship. Josie said, “Growing up in Brazil, I didn’t have as much opportunity as the kids have here in the U.S. My parents couldn’t give me much; even buying shoes to play volleyball was hard. I came to this amazing country on a full scholarship to Panola College offered by Nicole McCray Thorn, and then transferred to Texas Woman’s University with athletics and academic scholarships. When I came here, I couldn’t speak a word of English. Today, I am a proud physical education teacher. Thank you to God for all the blessings He gave me.”
Thomas, now a teacher-coach, said his time at Panola College was an experience he will never forget. “The teammates and friends I made while at PC I still keep in touch with eight years later. The professors truly care about the education of their students and really take the time to get to know everyone with such a small professor-student ratio. The town of Carthage showed tremendous support for not only PC Athletics but the entire school.”
“Panola College adds dimension to our town,” Donna Womack Cox said. “The theater events give people a chance to experience culture at an affordable price and see the talents of the students.”
Lauren Boone said the highlight of her Panola College experience was “meeting my husband through a study abroad trip organized by two amazing professors there.”
Kyla Rogers Kecman said, “I love that we can take advantage of the workout classes and theater events that the college offers.” Karen added that her family enjoyed “classes for fun, like the water color class my daughter took this summer, and the Zumba classes and other fitness classes. Of course, Kids’ College was always an awesome option for the kiddos in the summer, too. It introduced them to new things, and gave them something to do.”
John Foster praised the faculty and staff at Panola College. “The college also brings into a rural community a class of educated professionals that broadens our cultural experiences and opportunities. The college also is a great economic engine, employing scores of those folks who spend their incomes at local businesses that turn over many times.”
Shannon Ebarb agreed. “It’s awesome for the economy and helps promote Panola County and Carthage as a whole.”
Donna said, “The campus is beautiful and an asset to our town. I enjoy looking at it when I drive by. I went to Panola College my freshman year and wouldn’t take anything for that experience.”
“Carthage would not be Carthage without Panola College,” said Alan Scarborough. “The educational opportunities are endless, and the college gives an economic boost to our community. I am thankful and a proud alum of Panola College.”