Dalton State College is giving up its technical college status in July 2011 as officials there explore eliminating some technical programs and adding other four-year degrees.
The move comes as part of Tuesday’s agreement with Georgia Northwestern Technical College to allow that institution to expand its offerings to residents in Whitfield and Murray counties. DSC President John Schwenn said the college agreed to give up its technical college status and the funding that goes with it as it shifts its focus toward becoming a four-year, university-type institution. He said Sandra Stone, DSC’s vice president for academic affairs, is gathering information on participation and cost for the kinds of degrees and programs the college offers and which programs might be added or eliminated.
“There could be some changes, or there may not be very many at all,” Schwenn said, explaining decisions would be made next month.
Schwenn said the changes could mean some existing faculty would be “put in other programs,” but he did not have the details immediately available because he was away from the office and the college was closed for the holidays.
Georgia Northwestern President Craig McDaniel said officials haven’t finalized a location, but it will be in Whitfield or Murray county. He expects to announce the location in January, and it will be an existing facility, probably close to 30,000 square feet, he said.
“I anticipate our growth being substantial,” McDaniel said. “I think we’ll continue to add programs, and I can envision us getting to a point where in just those two counties alone we’d be in the neighborhood of 2,000 students — not immediately but over a period of maybe six or seven years.”
Officials said Georgia Northwestern will offer training in industrial systems technology, computer information systems, management and supervisory development, technical communications and fire sciences programs. McDaniel estimated there’ll be about 300 students at the Whitfield or Murray campus when it opens in August 2011 after converting from a quarter system to a semester system. He said he’ll probably hire five full-time faculty members for the first semester and have several adjunct faculty and a campus manager.
“Our first focus is going to be putting in programs that meet the needs of Mohawk and Shaw and J&J Industries,” he said. “There’s just a shortage of skilled technical type workers.”
Jim Jolly, a Dalton resident and member of the Board of Regents, called the move a “win-win” for the community and both colleges. He said the trend for several years has been a need for more technical education in north Georgia. Dalton Utilities and several of the larger floorcovering companies such as Beaulieu of America, Mohawk Industries, Shaw Industries and J&J Industries have an interest in having a trained work force in the region, he said.
McDaniel said representatives from several of those companies agreed to fund, or find funding for, the expensive equipment needed to start the programs.
“It takes a lot of money,” he said. “We’ve got a commitment from the Technical College System of Georgia, and we’ve got a commitment from some of the local employers that they’re going to support us in terms of just getting off the ground, so I feel comfortable about our initial budget.”
About $2.4 million of the $4.5 million needed for the upcoming year’s budget is for equipment, and about $1.8 million of that is for instructional equipment to be paid for primarily by the industries who will likely hire the workers the college trains, McDaniel said.
Schwenn said DSC and Georgia Northwestern will offer “different kinds of programs” in the long-term so that neither will compete with the other. McDaniel said Georgia Northwestern will market four-year programs DSC offers that are of interest to its students.
DSC, for example, is hoping to one day expand its two-year registered nurse program to a four-year bachelor of science degree in nursing, a natural transition for Georgia Northwestern students who have lower level degrees in health. Though exact numbers weren’t immediately available, Schwenn said allied health programs are the largest of DSC’s technical offerings, and those offerings will likely stay and expand.
He said DSC would provide a way for students to finish any programs college officials decide to eliminate and that there are no plans to eliminate the School of Technology.
“It does not mean that we’re going to eliminate everything (in technical education), but it will make us more of a four-year institution,” Schwenn said.
About 1,500 people graduated from Georgia Northwestern’s technical programs last year, McDaniel said, and the college served about 9,500 people in those credit programs. McDaniel said the allied health programs they offer are a large strength of the college, but the initial focus in Whitfield and Murray will be in serving the needs of Dalton Utilities and the flooring companies.
Schwenn said he didn’t immediately know how much money from the Technical College System of Georgia DSC would lose. The number of technical students DSC serves also wasn’t immediately available.
With a Catoosa County campus set to open in 2013, the Whitfield or Murray location will be the sixth for Georgia Northwestern, which will soon serve nine counties. The college serves 23,000 people, both credit and non-credit each year, and McDaniel said he envisions serving as many as 30,000 seven or eight years from now.
Maintenance technicians for the carpet and textile industry are in high demand, McDaniel said, and about 40 percent of the current workforce is set to retire in the next five years. Also, the region has lost some 27,500 jobs in the past 30 months, he said, and another 12,000 to 15,000 jobs are being created with the arrival of the Volkswagen plant and other plants in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Georgia Northwestern’s presence, McDaniel said, will be key to recruiting future employers looking for a trainable workforce.
One key component of Georgia Northwestern’s plan is to work closely with local school superintendents to discuss ways to decrease the dropout rate and prepare a solid technical workforce. Whitfield County Schools Superintendent Danny Hayes confirmed in November a technical school contacted the district about leasing some space in one of its buildings, possibly the Whitfield Career Academy. Hayes declined to name the school and said no decisions had been made.