Paraphrasing 19th Century art critic John Ruskin, Matt Arthur, the Technical College System of Georgia deputy commissioner, told approximately 150 business, education and community leaders Tuesday in Columbus, “The main condition of education is to produce a person who has a wholesome and genuine job.”
Arthur added, “And that is our job. Why else would people go into higher ed? Why else are we here?”
And TCSG is doing that job well, according to the figures Arthur cited during his keynote address at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce “State of Education” luncheon in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.
The ultimate measurement is employment. Arthur said 88 percent of TCSG students get a job in their field of study, and 99 percent of them get a job of any kind or continue their education at a four-year college.
“That tells you we have a mature student coming to us or leaving us that understands they’ve got to have a career,” he said.
TCSG “is not your father’s trade school anymore,” said Arthur, substituting at the event for commissioner Gretchen Corbin. “My dad was an industrial arts teacher. Loved it. Still does. And we still teach the trades. We have to, because the jobs are out there. But we also teach cybersecurity. We produce nurses from CNAs to RNs, all the way through, whatever the hospital in that area needs. We teach students that go straight to Kia, students that go straight into Intel, Google. We still do film and move production, and we have students that go straight into working on a “Captain America” film. So we produce a wide range of students that can do a lot of things.”
TCSG comprises 22 colleges with more than 85 campuses serving approximately 235,000 students, Arthur said.
“There’s no one in Georgia that lives more than 30 minutes from a technical college site,” he said.
TCSG students generally are different in demographics compared to the four-year schools in the University System of Georgia. The average age of a TCSG student is nearly 27, Arthur said.
“That means that student more than likely has a family, already has a job,” he said. “They’re paying bills. So what do we have to do? We have to meet that student where they’re at.”
All of which means TCSG must be flexible in its scheduling.
“We work at all types of hours,” he said. “We set classes at all times of the day.”
Arthur called the years for ages 18-25 “lost years.” Then he explained why.
“They may go to the university system for a year; they may come to us for a semester or two,” he said. “Then you see them. They’re in the shopping centers at night, the park. They’re not leaving here. Most of them are going to live within 9 miles of where they grew up. They have a minimum-wage job. They’re living with mom and dad. Then at 26 or 27, they’re married and they decide, ‘I’ve got to go do something else. I have to get an education. I have to go further.’ And that’s when they come to us.”
The state’s dual enrollment program has helped reduce those “lost years,” Arthur said, allowing high school students to earn college credit – sometimes even obtain an associate’s degree – free of charge.
Three years ago, TCSG had 8,500 dual-enrollment students. That number has more than doubled to over 21,000, Arthur said. The program helps high school students undecided about higher education realize they can do college-level work without worrying how to pay for it, he said.
TCSG serves the state in three main areas, Arthur said:
▪ Technical and academic. TCSG offers more than 600 programs, each with a standard curriculum, “but every curriculum can be tweaked at a moment’s notice for business and industry,” Arthur said. “… We can teach what needs to be taught, what you tell us needs to be taught.” Twenty-seven of TCSG’s academic core courses are articulated with USG, meaning the credits can be transferred to one of the state’s four-year colleges.
▪ Adult education. Approximately 55,000 high school dropouts are in the state’s GED program, earning their general equivalency diploma at one of more than 400 instructional sites across Georgia, Arthur said. Someone without a high school diploma or GED earns an average of $10,000 less every year of their life, he said. Georgia still has an estimated 1.2 million residents in that category, 18 percent of the population, he said. In eight years, Arthur said, 60 percent of the jobs will require education beyond high school.
▪ Economic development. “We provide customized training for business and industry,” Arthur said. TCSG’s Quick Start program delivers free customized training to qualified new, expanding or existing businesses.
The 42 Georgia College and Career Academies are specialized charter high schools also within TCSG.
“It’s a definite partnership with industry and the schools and the colleges,” Arthur said.
The Muscogee County School Board approved on Monday the school district’s application process to explore and establish a College and Career Academy in Columbus. Chattahoochee County partially opened one this year, aiming toward full operation in 2018-19, and Troup County opened one in 2015.
High school students in a College and Career Academy have a 95 percent graduation rate, Arthur said, compared to 79.2 percent statewide.
TCSG’s enrollment was at a record of 156,271 in 2009 and fell to 133,455 in 2016 but increased to 134,256 in 2017.
“When the recession was here, our enrollment was sky high,” Arthur said. “… As the economy has gotten better, our numbers dropped. They do that across the nation, because everyone has a job. Now, we see it coming back, because everyone needs to be up-skilled.”
TCSG’s graduation rate has increased by more than 9 percent during the past three years, Arthur said, and the number of certificates, diplomas or associate’s degrees have increased by 10.8 percent.
An increasing number of female students are going into traditionally male jobs, Arthur said, “but it’s not high enough. There are a lot more females out there that can do cybersecurity, run computer systems, than will get in. For some reason, they’re not interested. They have the math skills to do it and the communication skills, so somewhere we’ve got to turn that around, where they’ll see that’s something they need to get into.”
With the HOPE Career Grant, TCSG offers 12 programs students can attend for free because those fields have jobs that are in high demand. Financial aid is given to 83 percent of TCSG students, Arthur said, and at $89 per credit hour a full-time load of 15 credit hours costs less than $1,500 per semester.
Of course, when the cost is free or discounted for the students, somebody else is paying for it. “Luckily, we’ve got a state and federal government that believe in what we’re doing,” Arthur said.
He encouraged the audience to “get involved” with a technical college’s academic or industrial council or a high school to “make sure we’re putting out what you need and make sure we’re getting them in the door.”
Arthur concluded, “It’s our job to provide all Georgians with the training and the skills necessary so they can live the life that they need to. But it takes all of us in the room, every educational group, every business and industry, every elected official, in order to do that. And if we do that, Georgia’s future is going to be bright.”