Young black man designing something

Expanding course offerings to meet community needs

By Brenda Blackburn, Dean for Business and Service Careers

As a community college, Blue Ridge’s mission is to serve the educational and workforce needs of our community. In response to our region’s unique and evolving economic landscape, we are expanding our fall 2020 course offerings. New programs include human services technology, teacher preparation, graphic design, information technology, manicure/nail tech and greenhouse automation/horticulture technology.

Human services technology programs

After reviewing the Community Health Assessments for both Henderson and Transylvania counties and speaking with numerous citizens and community partners, it became clear that our region needs a more robust human services workforce. Both Henderson and Transylvania Counties are experiencing a growing crisis in the areas of obesity, substance abuse and mental health.

To address these needs, Blue Ridge created three two-year degree programs: human services technology, human services technology–social services and human services technology–substance abuse. These programs will train a workforce capable of combating the public health crisis and prepare students for entry-level positions in institutions and agencies that provide social, community, and educational services.

Transfer pathways to four-year institutions will allow students to seamlessly move into a bachelor’s degree program.

Teacher preparation

To address the gaps in the teacher pipeline locally and across the state, Blue Ridge will offer a new teacher preparation associate degree program. In this program, students will be exposed to several education courses, along with their general education courses.

The program will give students a “taste” of what the teaching profession looks like. They will be able to complete observations within local public schools and hear from expert teachers from all discipline areas. After completing their associate degree, students will have the opportunity to transfer to a four-year university to continue their education.

Information technology

Blue Ridge is expanding our information technology programs to several new associate degree pathways, including systems security (cybersecurity), game and simulation programming, data management, and business support.

The College chose to add these new pathways based on a variety of input. Our primary connection to local area IT professionals is our information technology advisory committee. This advisory committee recommended many of these courses and pathways. In addition, our faculty are established IT professionals with decades of experience. These new pathways align with broader IT industry needs and trends.

The programs are designed to prepare students to obtain entry-level positions in the IT field upon graduation. In addition to the associate degree programs, we also offer Career and College Promise certificates to help high school students to get a jumpstart on their college education or career.

Graphic design

After several local businesses asked Blue Ridge for graphic designers, we found it appropriate to begin investigating a graphic design certificate. After surveying local businesses and industry partners, 71% agreed or strongly agreed that the program was needed and 80% responded that they would require a post-secondary certificate or degree for hiring for a graphic designer.

The graphic design certificate is a part of the business administration/marketing program. Graduates will qualify for employment opportunities with graphic design studios, advertising agencies, printing companies, department stores, manufacturing industries, newspapers and businesses with in-house graphics operations.

Manicuring and nail tech

After several local salons asked for manicuring and nail techs, we found it appropriate to begin investigating the possibility of this certificate program. This certificate, which is part of our cosmetology program, will be offered through evening courses to meet industry needs.

Greenhouse automation and horticulture technology

Local and state agriculture is growing in our region. Local green goods are expected to top $50 million by 2020. Several automated greenhouse companies who are major producers of these green goods are relocating existing operations to our community. All of these companies have requested specific coursework in automation that would coincide with our current horticulture/AG technology program.

This new certificate is designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary for employment in the agriculture profession with an emphasis on greenhouse maintenance and automation.


Registration is open through Aug. 13 to high school students, college students and working professionals who would like to increase their skills in a specific area. The fall 2020 semester begins Aug. 19. For more information about these new courses, scholarships and registration, visit

Blackburn joined Blue Ridge in August 2007 and currently serves as the dean for business and service careers. Previously, she served as early childhood and school-age education lead instructor at Blue Ridge. Blackburn holds a Master of Science in human environmental sciences with an emphasis in child development from the University of Alabama.