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Technical colleges across Georgia saw the highest-ever increase in enrollment this year, and Lanier Technical College is at the top of the list.
The system as a whole saw a 22 percent jump in numbers, and Lanier Tech grew 21 percent to 6,850 students during the past school year.
“The economy has a lot to do with it,” Interim President Russell Vandiver said. “People are going back to school to get additional skills, and our high graduation number recently was a sign of that enrollment increase.”
The trend will continue, he said. Summer enrollment at Lanier Tech was up 17 percent — a time when activity on campus usually isn’t as heavy.
“I think we’ll continue to see those numbers for some time until we see the unemployment rates fall,” Vandiver said. “People want to keep getting those additional skills.”
The economic factor is the same across the state, Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Ron Jackson said.
“What happens with the national and state economy is most certainly a wild card in our future enrollment. Also, more and more high school graduates and their parents are making the TCSG their first choice for a college education,” Jackson said. “Long gone are the days of our technical colleges being Georgia’s best-kept secret for quality higher education and a pathway to a better career.”
The system has charged all technical colleges to increase dual enrollment numbers at high schools as well, but the economy plays a negative hand there, Vandiver said.
“We have a commitment there, but it’s still a tough time to do all that,” he said. “It has an effect on local school budgets as well.”
Despite increased enrollment, technical college budgets remain strained. Higher numbers call for more staff and more resources.
“The problem we’re having is finding a place for people to park and finding enough qualified instructors,” Vandiver said. “Our salvation is the online courses or hybrid courses. That’s the only way we’ve been able to handle this growth spurt. The problem is you can’t go out and hire full-time instructors because a spurt only lasts a certain amount of time.”
Last year, more than 4,000 students enrolled in online courses, including hybrid classes on campus that use online components.
About 2,000 students enrolled in solely online classes, and those numbers will continue to grow, Vandiver said.
“If you can imagine us trying to dump those numbers on our campuses, there’s no way. You’d need parking decks everywhere,” he said. “These online courses help us. If we didn’t have them, I don’t know what we’d be doing. The campuses aren’t built for those high numbers.”
North Georgia Technical College, which saw an almost 30 percent leap in enrollment, has used the same idea.
“One of the ways we’ve been able to handle this extraordinary expansion is by leveraging technology for class delivery and communications,” said President Steve Dougherty. “We’ve got a great staff, and I am always grateful to the way they step up to the plate every time they are asked to do more.”