CAIRO — Shawnee Community College’s new Cairo Extension Center is officially open and enrolling students for classes that begin Monday, marking an important milestone for the city and college.
The college has offered classes in Cairo for a number of years in various borrowed spaces, including at the high school and a public housing high-rise. However, this marks the first time the college has owned its own permanent location for the extension center, allowing for expanded hours and class offerings to serve the broader community, Shawnee Community College President Peggy Bradford said.
“We are delighted to be part of the rich history of Cairo and are confident that this location will serve the residents of our district for many years to come,” Bradford said.
The center will offer certificate training for truck driving and various other trades. Students working toward an associate's degree will have the ability to take the vast majority of their classes at the center. The only exception to that is those classes requiring labs, which are only offered at the main campus in Ullin.
In an interview this week, Bradford said that Shawnee Community College had stopped offering classes altogether in Cairo in the summer of 2017. The college had been offering classes at the Delta Center, but when the social service provider closed its doors, citing financial woes created by the state budget crisis, that left the college without a home here.
Prior to the start of the fall semester that year, Bradford worked with Cairo School District 1 Superintendent Andrea Evers to establish classes at the high school. But college officials have long hoped to find a permanent location for a Cairo center. And that goal finally came to fruition thanks to years of perseverance and a recent generous donation.
Edward Smith, president and CEO of Ullico Inc., a labor-owned insurance company, and chair of the college's Saints Foundation Board, donated $50,000 to purchase a building that had for years housed the Laborers' Local 773. In 2003, following a merger with other local union chapters, the expanded Local 773 moved its labor hall to Williamson County.
The Cairo site was renovated using about $750,000 in bond funds, Bradford said.
Bradford said the iconic building is the perfect place to establish a permanent presence in Cairo, right in the center of town. The extension is intended to serve students from communities in and near Alexander County, as well as those from across the rivers in places such as Wickliffe, Kentucky and Charleston, Missouri.
Evers said that the Cairo school district is thrilled the college extension center has opened. “The long-term educational opportunities for our high school students and our community members are limitless,” the superintendent said in an email. Evers said she appreciates the collaborative leadership led by Bradford and the college’s board of trustees to “assure equitable access to post-secondary course work throughout the Shawnee Community College district.”
The college additionally has fully accredited extension sites in Metropolis and Anna. In addition to those locations, beginning this spring semester the college also is opening an accredited extension center in Vienna to serve the greater Johnson County community in space that Vienna High School is providing, rent-free. Bradford said she hopes these new developments in Cairo and Vienna help to bolster enrollment and begin to reverse sluggish enrollment trends.
Cairo trustee Don Patton said fellow board members believe the Cairo Extension Center represents an important opportunity for residents of the area to advance their educational and job training skills. Patton said it also adds to the many resources available to help rebound the region's economy and support its workforce.
“As it relates to Cairo, I think it’s important that we take advantage of our location — the river, the rails and the interstate,” Patton said. “If we can do that in a collaborative fashion, we can revitalize what I call the opportunity of hope for residents of the area.”