College of Coastal Georgia president Valerie Hepburn knew the first semester of the 2012-2013 academic year was a success when students were still on campus throwing Frisbees and footballs after exams were over.
“They didn’t want to leave,” Hepburn said.
It was a sign the college is not what it used to be. That is a good thing, Hepburn said.
Since becoming a school offering four-year bachelor’s degrees, the college has transformed into a bustling campus with new buildings, new landscaping and a reinvigorated energy that Hepburn hopes spreads through the entire community.
While much of the visible progress has been made in years past, Hepburn said perhaps the most important step was taken this year when the college earned its 10-year accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
“In the college world, that is the big thumbs up,” Hepburn said.
For her, earning the accreditation was especially noteworthy because the association did so without making any recommendations for improvement.
“It was the first time we had that level of scrutiny, and we passed with flying colors,” Hepburn said.
Another behind-the-scenes first for the college was the completion of its first ever in-depth financial audit.
The audit looked at all levels of operations to determine the college’s financial health.
Like the accreditation, Hepburn said the audit showed the school was very stable and no action was needed to correct deficiencies.
“It was not something we publicized, but it was very important,” Hepburn said.
A clean bill of financial health and a level of credibility with the new accreditation were not the only highlights from the year, Hepburn added.
This was the first year for the new school of business and public affairs, which proved to be very popular, she said.
The college foundation, its fundraising body, had a record-breaking year, bringing in more than $3.5 million, Hepburn said. It is now providing around 10 percent of what the college gets in state funding for scholarships and other academic functions.
“That is huge,” Hepburn said.
She is looking for the momentum from this year to carry over into 2013. There is still more to do.
Next year, Hepburn is hoping the board of regents will approve a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies to add to the mix. If the regents approve the degree program, it would be the first of its kind in the University System of Georgia.
Other colleges to feature an American Studies program include the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
With the history of the area and institutions such as the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, the program just makes sense, she said.
After completion of the new Correll Center for Teacher Education and Learning this year, which will officially open in January, Hepburn is hoping to secure $2 million in funding for renovations of the Academic Commons South building, the only one that has not been built new or completely renovated in the past four years.
The project will likely be Hepburn’s swan song at the college. She will be stepping down as president in May, at the end of the academic year, to help the university system rework its employee benefits and insurance packages. Hepburn took over the college in 2008 and will have served as president for five years.