Secretary Julie Su visits the Benedict College B.E.S.T. Lives Center

Columbia, SC, On Wednesday, January 31, 2024, Acting US Labor Secretary Julie Su visited Benedict College B.E.S.T. Lives Center (BLC) to spotlight equitable access to training and education opportunities for military families, people formerly involved in the foster care system, formerly incarcerated people, and adult learners.

“It was a distinct honor to welcome the Acting Secretary of Labor, Julie Su, to the Benedict College B.E.S.T. Lives Center to meet some of the people in the Columbia community whose lives have been positively impacted by this state-of-the-art learning hub,” said Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, President and CEO of Benedict College. “The B.E.S.T. Lives Center has done a remarkable job helping our most vulnerable students to address challenges associated with educational access, connectivity, social mobility, workforce development, and long-term employment.”

Dr. Vanessa Harris, the new Executive Director of the B.E.S.T Lives Center, brings over 25 years of higher education experience to BLC. Dr. Harris arranged for a few adult learners, military students, and partners of the center to talk with Acting Secretary of Labor, Julie Su, about their personal experience in the program. “The Secretary’s visit to the B.E.S.T. Lives Center was a great recognition of the work that is occurring at Benedict College via the BLC.  Her acknowledgement of the necessity of providing services and resources to the marginalized communities highlights the importance of workforce development and equitable access,” noted Dr. Harris

The B.E.S.T, (Benedict Empowers Students and Transforms) Lives Center provides innovative and transformative educational opportunities for Columbia’s underserved communities. The BLC is funded by a Community Grant from the U.S Department of Labor and consists of four key areas, The Veterans Resource Center, Extended Learning Services/Adult Learners, , Formerly Incarcerated Citizens, and former members of Foster Care.

The Benedict College Veterans Resource Center (VRC) assists active-duty military, reservists, retirees, and their dependents with their educational needs. VRC aids with enrolling into college, obtaining financial assistance, and provides information about support services while attending Benedict College. The Veteran’s Resource Center is a community asset and strategically positions Benedict College to expand its existing services to include the development of stackable, portable credentials that enable veterans to harness their prior learning as they work toward additional credentials, degrees, or civilian careers. 

 The Benedict College Office of Extended Learning Services offers educational opportunities for degree and non-degree seeking students with the desire to grow professionally. The degree completion program for adult learners offers a Bachelor of Science degree in General Business Administration and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.

The Benedict College Formerly Incarcerated Citizens program will include scholars that participated in Benedict College Second Pell Program.  The Second Chance Pell Experiment was first established in 2015 by the Obama-Biden Administration. In 2022, Benedict College was selected to be part of the Second Chance Pell along with 72 other colleges and universities. The experiment will allow participating schools to provide Federal Pell Grants to otherwise eligible students who are incarcerated in Federal or State penal institutions and will be eligible for release into the community; particularly those who are likely to be released within five years of enrollment in the program.  Currently, there are 21 incarcerated scholars enrolled between Kershaw and Broad River Correctional Facilities.  The scholars can select between General Business and Interdisciplinary Majors.  Incarcerated scholars will receive all the student support services  they need to be successful college students. 

Benedict College is dedicated to serving college-age children transitioning out of the Foster Care System. We know that over 4,000 children across South Carolina are in the Foster Care System. According to the Legal Center for Foster Care and other sources, about eight in 10 foster children want to attend college. However, fewer than half are enrolled, and less than 10 percent will obtain a degree.  The BLC provides an easy transition from foster care to a post-secondary education.