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The UNC system, which includes Western Carolina University among its 17-strong member institutions, has long been a crown jewel for the state and the envy of many of North Carolina’s peers.

The 58-member community college system, which includes Southwestern Community College, can be likened as the state’s Swiss Army Knife.

However, it also contains a crown jewel, Southwestern Community College.

This is far too broad a brush, but essentially universities try to turn out well-rounded individuals who can find their place in, and become functioning members of, society.

Community colleges fix stuff, or more to the point, turn out people who can fix stuff, people who can immediately address pressing needs in the community.

And Southwestern is the best there is, according to the ranking service Bestcolleges.com. It placed our local institution at the top of its listing, “The Best Community Colleges & Trade Schools of 2020.”

It’s familiar ground for SCC, marking the fourth time in 13 years it has landed in the top 10 in various nationwide rankings. But this is the first time it has climbed the peak to stand atop more than 1,100 community colleges nationwide.

SCC President Don Tomas said, “This ranking validates what I’ve been saying for years: Southwestern is the best community college in the country. We are at the top because we have the most caring, giving and supportive faculty and staff members you’ll find anywhere. They give freely of their time and their energy because they want to help our students succeed.

“A culture like this doesn’t happen overnight. Earning this level of recognition is a credit not only to our current employees and leadership but also to our predecessors and all the wonderful men and women who’ve served on our Board of Trustees over the years.”

A community college the caliber of SCC looks for workforce needs in the area and moves to address them. Thus SCC’s casino-preparation program in cooperation with Harrah’s, its array of partnerships to fill health field jobs and its focus on criminal justice training, which includes Park Ranger Law Enforcement Academy training for the National Park Service, outdoor leadership and wilderness therapy programs. SCC also stands out as the only community college in the country to have a scientific partnership with NASA.

Jackson County Board of Commissioners Chair Brian McMahan said, “SCC has a long history of excellence in education, workforce development, and cultural enrichment in the lives of the people of Western North Carolina and especially Jackson County. We are very proud of their hard work and dedication and congratulate them on this great honor.”

A good community college is nimble, adjusting to changing and difficult times and delivering rewards far greater than would be expected from all-too-often humble funding.

A great one delivers even more, and that’s what we’re blessed to have.

And it’s needed now more than ever.

Here’s to continued success for SCC and its mission of helping the community we love through a perilous slice of history.

That shouldn’t be a problem; after all, it has played a lead role in building that community in the first place.