Monthly Column February 2015
Settling In at Dalton State College
Having spent 24 years with the University System of Georgia, I knew of Dalton State’s quality reputation. So I was honored to be asked to serve as Interim President here. It has only been a month but in that time my positive impression of the College and the community has only been strengthened.
My first few weeks have been spent in what I call a “listening tour” -- meeting students, faculty and staff as well as members of the Dalton State greater community. Has it been a while since you visited the campus? Do you still remember us as “Dalton Junior College”? If so, let me share with you a bit of what I have learned in the past month.
As I meet our faculty and staff, I get a strong sense of their love for the College, its mission and the students we all serve. When I meet current students, I can hear in their stories the depth of impact that Dalton State has had on their academic careers and personal development. When I meet alumni and other community supporters, I am struck by their pride in the college: they refer to it as “our college.” How wonderful to see the sense of engagement between the College and the community. I hope to strengthen those relationships. I have heard about how the interstate seems to divide the College from the community. I hope that perception will soon change. There are bridges across the interstate and I hope to build more.
I see a college that embraces its mission for serving the needs of the community and offers strong academic programs to our students. In fact, we offer 18 baccalaureate (four-year) degrees, 19 associate (two-year) degrees as well as a few certificate and mini-certificate programs. Dalton State College produces graduates in critical needs areas including education, nursing, chemistry, and business. We have opened a new science building, Peeples Hall, with state-of-the art equipment and facilities. As a chemist, I am so impressed with this new building and the opportunities it offers to our students.
We are an Emerging Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), which means that a significant percentage of our student population is of Hispanic descent. As our Latino population grows, we are adapting to better serve the needs of these and other students. This is also another indicator that we are serving the needs of our community.
The emphasis across the University System of Georgia these days is on ensuring that students graduate rather than simply enrolling as many students as possible. I am pleased to say that I find Dalton State College is, indeed, focused on helping students not only enroll in college but successfully navigate the complex curriculum and graduation requirements and the challenging academic coursework while developing the whole student into a productive citizen. I am glad to see that we draw the vast majority of our students from Whitfield (41% in fall of 2014) and surrounding counties (86% total from Whitfield, Gilmer, Walker, Gordon, Catoosa, and Murray counties). On the other hand, we drew students from 14 states and 43 countries this fall. I am pleased to hear students say they plan to stay in Dalton or the nearby area upon graduation. We are truly investing in the future of this community.
The majority of our students are enrolled in baccalaureate degree programs and are full-time students. Our tuition and fees remain very competitive despite the challenges in the economy which produce strained budgets. In fact, we are among the most affordable colleges in the state and were ranked 26th lowest net cost public college in the United States. We also boast small class sizes (17 students per class on average) which explains the close relationships between our students and faculty. We know our students by name and help ensure that students do not get lost among a crowd of people. I am happy to say that we have housing on campus, but I am even more glad to report that we are partnering with an outside developer to build new and improved housing to attract and serve more students than we have in the past. We expect to open these new residence halls in fall of 2016. If demand persists, we are hopeful we can build even more new housing.
As Interim President, I am not sure how long I will be here, but while I am here I am committed to serving the needs of the students and the community. My vision for Dalton State College is that we continue to improve our efforts to serve the needs of this region by partnering with local businesses, responding to the employment needs and ensuring that a high quality, affordable college education is available close by with degree programs that meet the demands of today’s economy. Many people have already welcomed me to the community, but I hope to have the chance to meet many more in the coming months. I hope you will share with me your vision for Dalton State College, what you perceive that we are doing well and what you think we could be doing better or in addition to what we are currently offering this community.
I am proud to be part of the Dalton State College family. Together, we are making a difference in Northwest Georgia. I hope that you will visit often to see how we continue to adapt to meet the needs of our community and state in a rapidly changing world.