Byline: Terry Dickson
BRUNSWICK | Gov. Nathan Deal wants Georgia to have 250,000 additional college graduates by 2020, and the University System presidents have to figure out how to do it.
The 35 colleges and universities in the system laid out their plans to accomplish Deal's initiative last week in a combined 636 pages of reading, charts and tables. Folded into that massive document are the goals of two Southeast Georgia schools, College of Coastal Georgia in Brunswick and South Georgia State College with campuses in Douglas and Waycross.
Both already had initiatives of their own, however, to change that "some college" label on area job seekers' resumes to bachelor's degrees.
CHANGING HEARTS AND MINDS
It is something that Coastal Georgia President Valerie Hepburn has studied from the time she became interim president of what was then two-year Coastal Georgia Community College in July 2008.
Less than half the residents of Brantley and Wayne counties in the college's five-county primary service area have four-year college degrees and the remaining three, Camden, Glynn and McIntosh, are under 60 percent, U.S. Census data shows.
"If people are starting college and not completing college, how much have we accomplished?" Hepburn said.
The lowest level of attainment level is in Brantley County where about 5 percent have four-year degrees and about 12 percent have two-year associate degrees. It is also the lowest in attempts with less than 30 percent attending college at all.
But Hepburn cautions that part of the higher levels in Camden, Glynn and McIntosh counties may be the proximity to the ocean. In other words, the statistics are boosted by people who were educated elsewhere and retired along the coast.
"It is important we get something done in Southeast Georgia," she said. "They don't all have to be bachelor's degrees, but a lot of them need to be."
The college's plans call for increased access, expanding and improving retention and increasing student engagement on campus and in the community. Those are among the broad plans - some of which are well under way - with a lot of subsets to carry them out.
But for all of what is committed to paper, when Hepburn speaks on the subject it comes down to a hearts and minds strategy.
"Part of it is getting students engaged in their very first year in seeing their futures," she said.
With the college's service learning and field experience programs, they can see their own possibilities, she said.
The college has to help the students establish dreams because, in many cases, they don't have the role models in their families, she said.
Hepburn said she knows a college degree is not for everyone, but that those can't be dismissed.
"Those not interested in a degree, we need to get interested in a career," she said.
For many the answer is a technical college program, but even among those are some who can attain more and fill needs in their communities.
"Some people who plan only to get a tech degree have the capabilities to be a doctorally prepared engineer," she said.
A MERGER AND A CHALLENGE
South Georgia State College has to merge what was once South Georgia College in Douglas with Waycross College in Waycross while turning its nursing course into a four-year degree program and implementing its plans to meet the governor's goals. …