Are We Guilty of Selling Ourselves Short?

When I initially introduced my vision of Dalton State College as a “first-choice destination college” I knew there would be some explaining to do. What exactly does that mean? By “first choice,” I mean that I want our college to be a college that students are proud to attend, not just their backup plan or last resort. I want students and their families to beam with pride when they say they plan to attend Dalton State.

And by “destination college” I mean that I want Dalton State to be the kind of institution where students plan to graduate, not just a great place to start before transferring somewhere else for their degree. I want to produce more graduates for this region, and I want to attract more students from beyond this region.

When I first introduced this “first-choice destination college” concept, people often looked at me as though they thought I might be kidding. I was not kidding. And I am even more committed today to this goal. Our students and our community deserve a first-choice destination college.

Trust me, I know Dalton State is not going to be confused with Harvard. But for many students, particularly those in our region, Dalton State is the best fit. I believe whole-heartedly that Dalton State can and should become a college that attracts students from all over because of our reputation for providing a high quality education, our reputation for serving students well, for graduating large numbers of students who are statistically at risk of not graduating and for producing graduates that employers are glad to hire.

I believe we can do this without altering our mission, without changing our admission standards and without increasing our cost of attendance. But to do this, we need everyone to buy in to the vision. I would argue that we are already a first-choice institution for the majority of our students. I have only anecdotal evidence of this, but I ask every student I meet to tell me about themselves and why they chose Dalton State. The answers are very encouraging.

Our students consistently tell me how excited they are to come to Dalton State and how glad they are to be on a small campus in beautiful northwest Georgia.

We need to ask ourselves if we have caught up with their enthusiasm. Are we surprised that students are choosing Dalton and Dalton State? Are we the ones who are selling our college and our community short? Are we still telling our sons, daughters and neighbors that Dalton State is a great option if they can’t afford something better? Are we still telling students that Dalton State is a great place to get a good start, a good foundation?

Or are we commending the wisdom of choosing a small and affordable college in a safe and friendly community where they will graduate with little or no debt and where they are taught by highly qualified faculty (not graduate teaching assistants), where their professors know them by name, where they can aspire to leadership roles in student organizations and where they can have exceptional experiences such as undergraduate research and internship opportunities?

Are we telling prospective students about Dalton State’s honors program and its regional and national titles in athletics, along with a beautiful new residence hall, quality food service and state-of-the-art academic facilities such as Peeples Hall, the Wright School of Business (under construction) and our newly renovated Health Professions building?

Colleagues from across the country are taking notice of the exciting things happening at Dalton State. They tell me about it when I attend national meetings. They encourage people at their own institutions to watch what Dalton State is doing and try to follow our examples. We are on the move, increasing our visibility and improving our image. We are well on our way to becoming a first-choice destination college. Does this come as a surprise to our own community?

If you have not visited Dalton State in the past few years, you will want to come take a look at all of the physical improvements. Visit our website ( for news of exciting things happening on our campus. New buildings, renovated spaces, new signage and landscaping announce to visitors that Dalton State is not a relic of bygone days. Visits to downtown Dalton alert guests that Dalton is not a sleepy little town. This community is on an upward trajectory, and Dalton State is part of that momentum. We are Roadrunners. We run boldly!

Margaret Venable is president of Dalton State College.