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Local tech schools leading the surge in enrollment
Poor economy driving people to learn new skills
Rafael Ramirez, left, and Allen Johnston work on a project in a drafting class at Lanier Technical College. - photo by Tom Reed
Allen Johnston knew exactly what he wanted to do after he lost one of his jobs — hit the books.

“I was working two jobs, but when I lost my daytime job as a land surveyor, I decided to enroll (at Lanier Technical College),” said Johnston, a drafting student from Oakwood.

“I chose (drafting) because I was always interested in what they were doing in the (surveying) office, so hopefully I will be able to get a better job with a good education.”

Johnston isn’t the only student that has turned to technical college training due to company downsizing. According to Technical College System of Georgia officials, fall enrollment in the system is up by 24 percent compared to last fall. System administrators cite the economic downturn as a large influence on the increased enrollment.

“If there’s an upside in this down economy, it’s that the state’s technical colleges are helping tens of thousands of Georgians learn highly marketable skills and find their new place in today’s changing work force,” said Ron Jackson, technical system commissioner.

The additional students who have joined the technical college system have created a new record for quarterly enrollment. With more than 110,000 students enrolled in the fall quarter, the system’s previous record of 91,838 set in 2003 was shattered.

Both Lanier and North Georgia Technical College placed in the top six out of the system’s 28 colleges for enrollment growth.

“After gaining SACS accreditation last year, our enrollment has really skyrocketed since we were able to start signing course articulation agreements with so many four-year colleges,” said Steve Dougherty, North Georgia Tech president.

“Most of our students are looking for specific job skills, but they also want to keep their options open to acquire a bachelor’s degree as they look at advancement, management or business ownership.”

According to Lanier administrators, the school’s health care programs have seen the largest enrollment increases. For Murphy Barnett, the school’s nursing program is helping to bridge the gap between careers that has widened as the economy has worsened.

“I am a licensed realtor, but I haven’t had a sale in three years. I also worked in the currier business, but that has also been severely hampered by the economy also,” said Barnett, who is studying to become a licensed practical nurse.

“Because of the economy, I wanted to find a career that would give me more freedom and flexibility.”
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