Sun, June 16, 2024

Augusta Tech’s year of success and plans for the future

Augusta Technical College’s (ATC) president looked back at successes the past year, ahead to new, near-term projects, and unveiled three major, new initiatives.

During his State of the College address, Dr. Jermaine Whirl said at the end of the day, ATC’s mission is workforce development. He said the college’s number one strategic priority to fulfill its mission is investing in the school and students’ success.

“In terms of enrollment, FTE (full-time employment), dual enrollment, adult ed, and graduates for the academic year 2022 versus 2023, we had about an 8.7% increase in enrollment,” he said. “Right behind that our FTE, which is our full-time employment equivalency, is about 8.3%. High school students, if you look at that, we were up 18.2%, and an additional 100 students were engaged last year. We’re looking to turn that up moving into the upcoming year.”

He said ATC continues to have a 99% placement rate overall, meaning students are successfully finding employment after graduating.

Whirl said 2023 has been particularly busy at ATC, including a program with Augusta University called “Augusta Advantage” that launched in January.

“We have a lot of students who wanted to come to Augusta Tech in their first two years and then transfer to a four-year institution without losing any credits. And we’ve accomplished that,” he explained. “It’s essentially an associate degree in general studies. And those students can move right into any of AU’s academic colleges as a junior. So that’s a big, big, big deal. It’s well branded on both our website and AU’s website.”

January also saw the opening of ATC’s new Health Sciences campus at Summerville Hospital. The partnership with Piedmont Hospital brings programs including nursing and radiology under one roof in a fully functional hospital, the only one of its kind in Georgia.

Also this year, the college signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) that will create an apprenticeship technician program, starting in 2024.

Among the other recent successes, ATC is getting $45.5 million from the state to build an 81,000 square-foot advanced manufacturing and engineering technology training facility in Columbia County, and the partnership with Augusta National Golf Club, First Tee of Augusta, and the city of Augusta for the city’s municipal golf course, affectionally called “The Patch” beginning in January 2025.

“The college’s foundation will be leasing that property for 50 years and renewable for years. So, we will take ownership of it,” he said. “We’re looking at completely renovating the actual grounds, updating the clubhouse, and then also building a new educational building with a new maintenance facility. Our Golf Management Program will be housed there.”

Moving ATC’s automotive educational programs to the former Johnson Motor Company on Walton Way is still on target for 2025. There will be a soft launch of the facility on Nov. 1, with the unveiling of the full set of artist renderings for the facility. The target to begin classes is in fall of 2025.

Whirl said shortly after launching the automotive campus, ATC will have an announcement on the exact Broad Street location of a microenterprise center ATC is creating with Augusta’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA). It will serve as an incubator for entrepreneurs and small business start-ups, as well as welcoming existing businesses to use the shared space.

After looking at the past and near future, Whirl unveiled a trio of new projects for ATC.

First, the college will be creating a mockup, Augusta Tech storefront at the Junior Achievement Discovery Center of the CSRA. The center is a joint project between the Columbia and Richmond County school districts. It is being built on River Watch Parkway and is slated to open later this year. It will target middle school students and help teach them career and financial literacy.

Second, the school will be creating a welcome center on campus. The EMS building across from the Jack B. Patrick Information Technology Center will be repurposed for the center. That will free up the Terry Elam building to be converted into a student union building.

That led to the third new project, an ambitious goal to create student housing on the ATC campus. Whirl said they are in the midst of a feasibility study with a developer.

“We have about 10.6 acres on the backside of our campus that are usable land. Working with our foundation, we’re talking to developers right now about potentially building housing,” he said. “Because if you’re going to have a Patch, if you’re going to have a hospital campus, if you’re going to have a cyber center, if you’re going to have an advanced manufacturing facility, you got to have some housing. And so, this is really the next evolution for Augusta Tech.”

Whirl said 2025 would be the earliest they would be able to house students on the ATC campus. He said student housing would convert the college from being a commuter institution to being a comprehensive, two-year institution.

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