From 2-4, That's How College Grows; Monday, Faculty and Staff Welcome Students to Bachelor's Degree Program

Article excerpt

Byline: TERRY DICKSON

BRUNSWICK -- Before any fall semester opens, college administrators hold convocations, the sometimes stodgy academic assemblies to lay out plans for the new year.

College of Coastal Georgia President Valerie Hepburn dispensed with the word "convocation" and insisted on the more descriptive "launch."

Hepburn will guide the institution Monday as it launches a four-year degree program 48 years after its founding as two-year Brunswick Junior College. Since the state Board of Regents decreed the change, Hepburn and other administrators have been preparing virtually nonstop.

Hepburn likened the pace and intensity to slaking a thirst -- sort of.

"It's like drinking water from a fire hydrant," she said.

She, the faculty and staff will have to implement the changes as the budgets of every institution in the University System of Georgia shrink. Just last week, the Board of Regents ordered six days of furlough for all employees in the system.

Regent Jim Bishop, who practices law in Brunswick, says the timing couldn't be worse. Nonetheless, they proceeded with the change because the region around Georgia's southern coast has long been underserved.

"We're going to have to be at the top of our game to make sure this unique opportunity is preserved," Bishop said.

LESS IS MORE

Bad economic times mean the college will have less money, but it also provides opportunity, Bishop said.2

"In bad economic times, people go to school. We've got to have a place to put them," he said.

Jesup-based Altamaha Tech took over the technical education programs formerly at the college and moved them lock, stock and welder's shield to the Golden Isles Career Academy in the county's industrial park. The students left with the equipment, bringing a forecast that the college's enrollment would dip this semester and then climb during the next few years, Hepburn said.

Months ago, she was cautiously optimistic that enrollment wouldn't decline too badly. She said it now appears enrollment could be up 15 percent, but they won't know for sure until everyone pays tuition and begins attending classes.

That could put the college ahead of schedule in achieving projected enrollments of 6,000 students by 2020 and ultimately, 10,000.

ROOM TO GROW

When looking at the campus, Hepburn sees things that aren't there. She sees potential.

"We've got 200 acres," she said, "and virtually none of it is developed."

Planners already have it laid out: The north end for recreation, the east for housing and the west, academics.

There is a nice lake to the east where the first set of dorms will go. The former technical training facility overlooks a wide greensward that slopes to the lake, and Hepburn said it will anchor student activities.

On a rainy day, she guided a golf cart around the spacious campus, and said she found it a strange way to travel at a college.

"I'm used to walking everywhere," Hepburn said.

Besides what is unseen, there is much change that can be seen. When students arrive Monday, they will find the parking lot and road in front of the administration building closed to vehicles. Also, it is now a tobacco-free campus.

Before the technical education building was emptied last summer, Hepburn walked past a turning lathe in a machine shop where the smell of grease lingered. With all the machinery gone, the vacant space will be transformed.

"It will all look and feel like that manufacturing warehouse young people love," she said.

The techno-industrial look with the exposed ducts and beams and the polished concrete floors will be like the coffee houses students frequent and the stores where they buy jeans. …