The major significance of the recent announcement that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) has granted Level II status to Georgia Highlands College means the school can, if desiring to do so, potentially offer four-year degree programs in any field/area.
It’s a huge “win” for this community and an advance that many, including this newspaper, have been promoting for well more than a decade.
The driving force behind seeking the SACS accreditation is, as most know, the college launching a four-year nursing program. As did Shorter University not long ago and as Berry College does in tandem with Emory University but now is seeking to bring entirely “home” to its local campus.
The health-care “market” is driving this. Given Greater Rome is a health-care center (the largest employer, too, with education right behind), this change is thus well-timed.
WHILE TWO-YEAR nursing degrees were long sufficient, the demands and knowledge and responsibilities of this career have made employers — particularly hospitals — seek four-year degree graduates. Both for future nurses — and it is known that the current workforce in this area is aging — and for those with two-year diplomas, particularly those already at the registered nurse level, who want to keep up and stay in the better-paying positions this availability locally is significant.
However, the larger importance is that with SACS approval comes an open door to the future.
As Laura Musselwhite, Highlands’ interim vice president for academic and student affairs, pointed out: “SACS is not only approving one program in particular, but baccalaureate status in general. An institution must demonstrate that it is capable of providing all the academic and student services necessary for a four-year degree program.”
While Georgia Highlands will never duplicate the massive array of majors available at many state universities, it does mean it could seek to create a bachelor’s program in geology or nuclear physics ... although far more likely would be future degrees in such as education, social work, law enforcement.
NOTHING WILL happen overnight but now anything is possible.
The importance of this, as this newspaper has repeatedly stressed over the years, is greater availability. While both Berry and Shorter have long offered numerous four-year degrees they are private schools, focused on the “resident student” experience of those living on campus and not particularly suitable (or inexpensive) for many hometown or “commuter” students.
Having a public-supported four-year option has long been needed. Not only that but, as this paper pointed out in 2005, the Floyd campus (unlike the Cartersville satellite upon which much attention and funding has been heaped in recent years) has the land and lakeside setting perfect for dorms should the state have the need to create more education space with dorms in an underserved region of the state.
It is also worth noting that this possibly further confirms the value of having a local voice in state decision-making at the highest levels — something Greater Rome has largely been without for some years now and perhaps explaining why it hasn’t gotten a lot of “things” for which it has pleaded.
BACK IN 2006, our paper observed:
“For the first time in almost 20 years, Greater Rome will have a presence on the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. Now does Georgia Highlands become a four-year college?”
Guess the answer turned out to be yes.
It went on: “While the intention is not to put undue pressure on Willis J. Potts Jr. [now nearing the close of his seven-year appointment] in his new capacity — the ways of the regents work in slow and mysterious ways — it’s great to have a local voice speaking for (our) interests.”
It would also be remiss not to note that this four-year elevation has occurred — not by intention — at a particularly valuable moment for Greater Rome and its reputation for being this area’s higher-education homeland, what with Georgia Northwestern headquartered here as well.
The existing authorized four-year degree institutions are currently both private with one, as most are aware, in the throes of considerable chaos and uncertainty.
That’s Shorter, of course, which has academic freedom complaints lodged against it currently and is under active SACS review of its accreditation.
NONE SHOULD wish Shorter ill, even those fully aware of the massive faculty/staff exodus due to the new sternly religious leadership and some of the ... well, weirdness. (Yes, we’ve seen the online video of the faculty-sponsored “flash mob” to ghetto, sexist music.)
However, with Georgia Highlands now capable of expanding four-year degree programs that means, should something bad happen, Greater Rome could in the long run retain the multiple accredited higher-education pathways that have been one of its major assets.
Birds in the hand can also be aces in the hole, it seems.