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Record enrollment at OTC
College benefits as students seek to expand skill set
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Ogeechee Technical College instructor Cheryl Ard, far right, checks on the progress of her students on a quiz during a Fundamentals in Nursing class Thursday. Many OTC classrooms have been overflowing with record enrollment this term. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    At Ogeechee Technical College in Statesboro, fall quarter enrollment has skyrocketed breaking the all-time enrollment record set in 2002.  With final numbers expected to eclipse the 2,500 mark, OTC is riding the wave of substantial enrollment increases being felt by colleges and universities across the country.
    “Frankly, this could not have come at a better time,” said Dr. Dawn Cartee, president of OTC. “It has been well publicized that all of the educational institutions in the state of Georgia have faced steep funding cuts, and we were no exception. This marked increase in enrollment has really helped offset some of those cuts.”
    Cartee said she and her staff expected more students than had registered in the past just due to the number of inquiries the college was receiving. “We knew that we were getting a lot more calls than usual as well as more applicants,” she said. “But these numbers are greater than what we anticipated. This is a 33 percent increase over last Fall, and that is just tremendous.”
    Cartee said part-time instructors had to be hired to help carry the load as well as some logistical details worked out. “For instance, we are actually using the conference room as a classroom, as well as adding more classes, and teaching more classes in the evening. We will give our students what they need. It is just a matter of using the space and the assets that we have.”
    Mike Light, director of communications for the Technical College System of Georgia, said a very important trend is emerging that might result in an all time record enrollment for the statewide system.
    “We have had enrollment increases for the past three quarters,” Light said. “If we just increase ten percent over last fall, we will have over 100,000 registered students which is far more than the record of 92,000 set in 2003.”
    Light attributes the increase to two factors. “First, a lot of people are retooling and retraining,” he said. “Jobs have disappeared that may not come back, and folks are looking for a new skill set so that they can find a job in this new economy. Secondly, we are really seeing an increase in the number of students under the age of 21.”
Light senses that many parents don’t want to send their children off to a traditional room and board college right now, encouraging their children to stay close to home.
    “Also, I think that we are doing a much better job of informing high school students about their educational options after high school,” he said. “Students realize that they can go to a technical college for two years and get a degree that translates into a $60,000 job opportunity when they graduate. This isn’t your daddy’s trade school anymore.”
    Chattahoochee Technical College, Georgia's largest technical college, expects over 11,500 students, up from its fall enrollment of 9,200 in 2008.  In the southwestern part of the state, Valdosta Technical College is also experiencing record enrollment resulting in the addition of 20 adjunct instructors and the utilization of every space on campus
    Cartee hopes that the word is getting out about OTC’s strong graduate placement numbers. “For fiscal year 2009, we had a 97.9 percent total placement rate,” she said. “That means that 97.9 percent of our graduates were placed in a job when they graduated. Almost 94 percent were placed in the field that they graduated in. That is really important when the job market is as tough as it is today.”
    Light said the three biggest fields within the Technical College System of Georgia are health care, business technologies, and industrial technology. “We have always prided ourselves on being able to ‘quickly’ adjust and offer the programs that meet the needs of our students and the demands of the economy,” he said. “Right now, there are a lot of job opportunities in those fields.”
    Light said the technical college system should to be able to continue to accommodate increases in its enrollment.
    “We are meeting the needs in the classroom, and no one around here has said that we are reaching the breaking point,” he said. “We always find a way to get it done. It is a new world with this economy, and it allows us to show off what we can do.”
    The Technical College System of Georgia consists of 28 technical colleges with two university system technical divisions and 31 satellite campuses. The system provides a broad range of career opportunities through a variety of certificate, diploma, and associate degree programs; continuing education programs; and economic development programs.