At Aiken Technical College on Tuesday and at USC Aiken on Thursday, graduates walked across the stage with the identical emotion – a sense of accomplishment and that it was all finally over, as well.

People may not realize that both campuses, combined, honored more than 900 students this week – many headed for the workforce, others the military or further education. That is an invaluable service.

Nationally, too many “experts” make the case that the most prestigious colleges are essential for young people to succeed. Yet small, regional state colleges like those in Aiken are quite capable of producing qualified graduates.

USCA attracts students from more than two dozen states and beyond. Tomas Greizinger, the outstanding senior graduate, is from Slovakia and could have enrolled at some of those best-known universities. Yet, he was anxious to attend USCA – just like his older brother and three others from his country. All five excelled.

Other young graduates grew up in Aiken County and remained in the community. Several of them were among the scores of seniors who graduated with honors. All of the graduates have given themselves a much greater opportunity for success.

That’s just as true at Aiken Technical College, where students earned degrees, diplomas and certificates in a variety of fields. ATC too fills many needs within the community. Students seeking four-year degrees can begin their education at the two-year school – getting two-year degrees or prerequisites while saving money before they move on.

Others can obtain training that will assist them in getting a job or earning more responsibilities in an existing position. For many people long out of college, ATC can provide them with a new life they never expected.

USC Aiken and Aiken Technical College are not standing still – thanks to the leadership of ATC President Dr. Susan Winsor and USCA’s former chancellor Dr. Tom Hallman and current Chancellor Dr. Sandra Jordan.

Both colleges have sought ways to engage first-year students in academics and in campus life and the community. They both also are establishing new or expanded majors or training programs.

Aiken’s economic engine is identified by its businesses and industry and the government entities that strive to attract new companies or expansions of existing ones. Yet those groups recognize that the colleges and the public schools as well, are a crucial component of economic development.

USC and ATC are preparing people for the future, and that mission cannot be overlooked.

We applaud the Spring 2013 graduates of Aiken Tech and USCA and wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors.