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Surging enrollment seen at technical colleges
Nikki Norrell, left, 20, watches Candace Johnson, 19, as she applies acrylic powder on a nail during a cosmetology class Monday at Lanier Technical Colllege. Lanier Tech has seen an increase in enrollment this quarter. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

With an 8-year-old special needs son, Susan Martin of Flowery Branch wanted a job that could give her flexibility to attend to her son.

She is currently in the third of four quarters of studying cosmetology at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood.

“I have been a pre-K teacher for the past 14 years,” Martin said. “I needed a job that would give me a schedule that would allow me to go to his doctor’s appointments.”

She loves the program and is excited about her new career.

Finding a new career is the objective of 3,519 students at the college’s five campuses.

Enrollment at Lanier Tech is up 19 percent over spring quarter of 2008 and students are finding some popular programs, such as those in the medical field, now have a waiting list.

“We’re bursting at the seams over here,” said Linda Barrow, vice president for academic affairs at the college.

She said that many of the new students are also collecting unemployment. Under the regulations for recipients of unemployment benefits, a person can receive unemployment assistance while attending school.

“Health care jobs and enrollment are hot right now,” Barrow said. “Those are the ones we have problems with because there is program level accreditation that mandates the ratio of students to instructors,” she said. “We can’t grow those programs because we don’t have the instructors.”

GED classes in Gainesville also are filled and have a waiting list.

The story is the same at the state’s other technical colleges, according to Mike Light, a spokesman for the Technical College System of Georgia.

“The numbers we are seeing are phenomenal,” Light said. “We’re seeing increases as high as 43 percent at Griffin Technical College.”

North Georgia Technical College, which has campuses in Habersham, Stephens and Union counties, has experienced a 30 percent increase in students for spring quarter.

Gwinnett Technical College has had a 15 percent increase.

“The numbers are big,” Light said. “Of course, a few more students means more tuition money is coming in.”

Many students at technical colleges receive the HOPE grant, which unlike the traditional college HOPE scholarship, does not require the student to have met a high school performance level. Many students begin working on a GED and then obtain the HOPE grant to pay for their technical college certificate or diploma program.

Light said technical colleges, like other state agencies, are living on less money following massive cuts to the current and next year’s state budgets.

“Everything we’re doing is focused on the classroom. If we have to make a cut, we’re doing it outside the classroom,” he said.

The spring numbers come on the heels of major jumps in enrollment in winter quarter, where increases were as high as 24 percent.

“We’re seeing an increase across the board, but people are coming back to us to retool and learn new trades,” Light said.

The average student age is also increasing. Light said winter quarter numbers showed a 12 percent increase in students ages 21 to 25. For students 26 to 30, the increase was 11 percent and 12 percent in students 31 to 35.

He predicts the percentage by age will only increase as final numbers are tabulated for the current quarter.

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