Monthly Column February 2018
Bigger Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Better
Bigger and better seemed to be the way of the 20th century. We replaced locally-owned grocery stores and friendly owners who carried our bags to the car with mega-markets that stock a greater variety of products at lower prices due to the volume of the business. Small boutiques were replaced by big box retailers that can even sell their wares to us from the comfort of our living rooms via our laptops.
As Dalton State implements its vision of becoming a “first-choice destination college” we considered enrollment targets and asked ourselves how big we intended to grow and how quickly. Our goal is to be the first-choice institution of more students and not a back-up plan. We want more of our students to graduate from Dalton State and remain in Northwest Georgia where they can contribute to the future of this region. With these goals in mind, bigger does not necessarily seem to be better for us.
We do want to serve as many students as possible, and we continue to spread the word regarding the opportunities at Dalton State, but we are focused on ensuring that we serve our students even better than we have in the previous decades. We are aware, for instance, that one reason our students choose us is because we are not large. We embrace the small campus niche where students are not overwhelmed by our size, and where they are taught by the very best faculty and leadership opportunities are plentiful. What are the odds of becoming Student Government Association president or Homecoming King or Queen at Dalton State compared to those of a larger institution?
Rather than expand our volume of students, we are focused on maintaining rigorous and relevant academic programs and providing the resources our students need to succeed. We believe we have the very best faculty and staff who take the time to know our students by name and offer assistance when needed while holding these same students to high standards of conduct and academic achievement. Our focus on quality over quantity means providing state-of-the-art educational tools and equipment as well as comprehensive library resources in a campus environment that is safe and accessible to all students. Instead of spreading ourselves across a larger number of students, we have chosen to ensure our students graduate in a timely manner with minimal debt and maximum potential as employees and dynamic members of their communities.
We are committed to ensuring that our students do not experience debilitating barriers to graduation, and we do it on a shoestring. We know that scholarships are critical for the success of our students, allowing them to focus more on their studies rather than working to pay rent, make car payments, and pay grocery bills. We are blessed by the support of generous donors who understand that investment in our students is an investment in our community.
Students who feel unsafe or unwelcome on a campus are much less likely to stick with their dream of earning a college credential. We know that many of our students are the first in their families to attend college; statistically that makes them less likely to graduate for a variety of reasons. In some cases, these students aren’t certain they are cut out for college. After all, no one else in their family has earned a college degree. Maybe it’s genetic? These same students are less likely to ask for help. Rather, when things become difficult, they often conclude they are not suited for college.
We work to educate our students about the challenges of college and the resources available to help them meet the demands, the very same tools available to students at more selective and affluent campuses – tools such as tutoring, academic advising, career counseling and leadership development opportunities. We must ensure that we maintain our state-of-the-art equipment and facilities needed to prepare students for the modern workforce they will enter. We help our students navigate the complex admissions process, secure financial aid, scholarships and payment plans and advising so they can make informed selections of academic programs and courses.
If our students could see how busy the tutoring labs are at other more prestigious campuses and how challenging the traffic and parking issues are they would soon realize that all college students need assistance at some point, and the parking difficulties at Dalton State pale in comparison to larger campuses.
Dalton State has always been known for its demanding and superior academic programs, but we cannot be complacent with our past successes. We must continue to ensure that our curricula are relevant and that we are preparing our students for the world in which they will soon lead. Our students deserve the very best as we prepare them to serve this community. For the next few years, Dalton State is concentrating on quality over quantity. We have offered an exceptional yet affordable college opportunity for five decades, but we are committed to even better outcomes for our students. We are intent on increasing graduation rates through enhanced retention of the students we recruit and ensuring our students have the resources needed to succeed.
We believe in the abilities of our students and in our mission to provide an affordable yet high quality undergraduate education to students in Northwest Georgia and beyond. We believe we can best achieve our goals by embracing our small campus culture.