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After five decades, Georgia Highlands continues to evolve

When Floyd Junior College started operating in 1970, it was a relatively small, locally attended higher learning alternative. Today, Georgia Highlands College serves more than 5,500 students at six campuses across Northwest Georgia.

The Rome and Floyd County campuses continue to operate as places where area students can earn an affordable post-secondary education close to home. Nowadays, however, there are far more degree options, including some that don’t require a campus at all.

Most recently, GHC added a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice that can be earned entirely online.

“This program is ideal for those who need to balance work and family responsibilities with their pursuit of higher education,” said Dana Nichols, Georgia Highlands College’s Vice President for Academic Affairs. “The Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice is excellent preparation for a career in criminal justice, as well as graduate or law school.”

Criminal justice isn’t the only bachelor’s degree option GHC offers. Traditionally a two-year and career program school, Highlands now has bachelor’s degrees in dental hygiene, nursing, health management, and logistics and supply chain management.

Associate degrees, as well as transfer and career programs, remain an integral part of what GHC continues to offer.

The college has a long history in preparing area nurses. Since the nursing program started in 1971, GHC has graduated around 3,500 students for that career field. That has played a major role in supplying graduates for Floyd County’s many medical facilities.

“The nursing program is extremely important for the local hospitals and clinics, both related to the number of graduates and the fact that many of the students are local,” said Rebecca Maddox, GHC Director and Professor of Nursing. “The graduates have a vested interest in staying and working locally. GHC nursing graduates fill critical nursing positions as staff nurses, charge nurses, nurse managers, and nurse educators.”

Maddox said GHC graduates go to work in many fields, including home health, occupational health, mental health, hospice, long-term acute care, long-term care, rehabilitation and nursing informatics.

“Graduates are flight nurses who transport critically ill patients to and between facilities,” Maddox said. “Graduates have become physicians, hospital administrators, and other health care administrators. It is hard to turn around without running into a GHC nursing program graduate.”

No matter what program the student is perusing, recent facility upgrades will be helping to enhance the student experience at the Floyd campus. Laboratories around the school have been getting physical upgrades and adding resources for students. A new geology room contains a whole host of hands-on resources for professors to use.

As much as facilities have improved, one recently implemented program has been lending improvement to each student’s pocketbook. Since starting in 2015, GHC’s free textbook program is estimated to have already saved GHC students over $6 million according President Don Green.

“On average, GHC has saved students over $2 million a year,” Green said. “Students also get video resources, software, labs and an enhanced textbook experience with hyperlinks to many other resources. GHC’s strong partnership with the University System of Georgia to increase savings to college students has expanded and strengthened GHC’s mission of producing more career-ready graduates with less debt. Joint efforts like this are great examples of how GHC can continuously increase student success in the classroom, through graduation and into a career with the greatest possible return on investment.”

The free textbook program helps make GHC an attractive option for area students, which could help explain why the college saw the state’s highest enrollment increase among Georgia’s state colleges – a 2.8 percent uptick in 2018.

“GHC continues to offer a high-quality education at one of the lowest rates in the country,” said Green. “As GHC’s enrollment continues to grow, it’s important that the college provide students pathways to becoming a career-ready graduate with little to no debt upon completion. We are thankful for all our community does to help share the opportunity for students here to earn an excellent and affordable degree close to home.”

GHC doesn’t take its partnership with the community lightly, especially with the school’s economic impact nearing $170 million for fiscal year 2017, a number that has continued to rise steadily in recent years. The 2017 impact, for example, was a $19 million increase over the previous year’s total.

“Our goal is to continue directly impacting and supporting the community by strengthening and broadening GHC’s role as the University System of Georgia’s primary access institution in the region, as well as working with our communities to add degree programs that serve our local labor market,” said Green.

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