THOMASVILLE -- The academic landscape in South Georgia will change dramatically a month from now. On July 1, Southwest Georgia Technical College, a fixture in Thomasville since 1947, will merge with Moultrie Technical College, which began in 1964, to become Southern Regional Technical College.
The marriage will affect hundreds of students in South Georgia and a few from North Florida. According to Deborah Gray, the SWGTC Registrar, “for the most recent term [Spring 2015] there were 37 students who live in Florida, 33 of those have Tallahassee addresses, two are from Monticello, one from Lamont and one is from Wacissa." The Florida students make up 2.8 percent of the student population and attend SWGTC because the college has reached out to North Florida residents, allowing students from Leon, Jefferson, and Gadsden counties to qualify for in-state Georgia tuition rates.
“The biggest benefit of the merger will be to our students," said Craig Wentworth, head of Southwest Georgia Tech and president of the combined college. “Students will be able to take a variety of courses and program offerings that they haven’t been able to in the past."
This merger is part of a trend. In 2009, the Technical College System of Georgia launched a plan to merge small institutions into bigger ones. The goal was to cut administrative costs while creating larger, more efficient colleges. Six years ago, the TCSG system had 33 colleges. The new Southern Regional, is born on July 1, and will bring the number of technical colleges across the Peach State to 22.
The merged school serves seven counties in South Georgia--Colquitt, Grady, Mitchell, Tift, Thomas, Turner, and Worth--up from three now. SWGTC officials say Moultrie Tech and Southwest Georgia Tech had a student enrollment last year of 5,121, and they hope to maintain that level in the new world of Southern Regional Tech. The college is also expected to admit hundreds of area high school students as part of a dual-enrollment program colleges and universities across the region are adopting. School officials expect some 1,100 dual-enrolled students this Fall, which they say should be the largest number in the state.
Uniting MTC and SWGTC was no easy feat. The Moultrie school has traditionally focused on certificate and trade school courses. On the other hand, the Thomasville college has offered full-fledged degree programs, with some 27 general education Associate Degree courses. SWGTC accepts out-of-state students and has a course-transfer agreement with other colleges and universities.
The college president admits it has been a challenge bringing together two schools with different cultures “but if you keep in mind the ultimate goal, the student, I think in the long run it will go very well," said Wentworth. “Now we will be blending all the programs and providing them to students on all our campuses."
Students seem willing to accept this change or are indifferent to it. Sandra Stafford of Thomasville works full time and is now pursuing an Associate Degree in Accounting to further her career. “I think the merger is a good idea because it will bring the city of Thomasville and the city of Moultrie together to achieve higher education levels that will benefit both cities,"she said, although she admits she prefers the name Southwest Georgia Tech to Southern Regional.
Sophomore Elisha McDaniel of Meigs, GA, hopes the merger works out. “I do believe more programs will be offered and class schedules will be more convenient to students."
But not everyone is optimistic. Elizabeth Schumacher moved to Thomasville from Kentucky last year to attend SWGTC. She is now planning to transfer to Louisiana State University and that worries her. “I am concerned the credits I try to transfer will be lost in the merger," Schumacher said.
“The merger will have a huge impact on me and my future," said nursing student Haley Cash of Moultrie. She says she received so much conflicting information about the change and how it would affect her courses that she made a big decision. “I have decided to attend a different college so I can get a degree in the field that my heart is in."
And dual-enrolled high-school student Caroline Upton of Thomasville doubts the merger will impact her but she says it may affect other high schoolers. “I personally know some people who may not be able to keep moving forward with college-level classes because of new rules and regulations," she said.
On the Thomasville campus, some faculty members say they support it but add they are not sold on the growing dual-enrollment program. They claim many of the high school students are not mature enough to take college courses, especially in classes with more than 20 students enrolled. College president Wentworth says the high school students have acted and performed very well and he has come up with a solution for large classes. “For the upcoming year, we want to have smaller class sizes to ensure the students receive added instructional assistance, if needed, and to ensure a quality educational experience," Wentworth said.
So, come July 1, new Southern Regional Technical College signs will go up on campuses in Thomasville, Tifton, and Moultrie and a new era will begin. Administrators will take on new roles. Jim Glass, acting president at Moultrie Tech, will become the Provost of the combined college. Deans will spend time traveling from one campus to another. Students at Southern Regional will have a wider array of course offerings from which to choose.
Two immediate challenges loom. The merged school must maintain current enrollment levels to achieve sufficient income. In the past, Wentworth says, when some colleges have merged, enrollment declined, at least for a few semesters. Beyond that, the new institution must gain accreditation from SACSCOC, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. That process begins this autumn.
“It’s a two-year transitional period”, said Wentworth. “Some things will work, some things won’t, but the good news for us is that we’re not the first merger, some of the bugs have already been worked out by the TCSG system office and staff in previous mergers and we appreciate that”.
Students interested in attending the new school should continue to apply for admission through Moultrie Technical College and Southwest Georgia Technical College.