Ga. technical colleges continue enrollment spike

The Technical College System of Georgia has 109,548 students taking courses this winter -- the system's largest winter attendance. It's an increase of about 26 percent -- or more than 22,000 students -- from last winter.

The gains follow enrollment increases recorded during the fall and summer quarters as laid-off workers and underemployed adults try to reboot their careers.

Commissioner Ron Jackson said technical colleges are "the education resource for anyone who wants to gain the kinds of skills and knowledge that result in great careers, even in today’s difficult economy."

Why technical college?

Students can get new skills in high-demand fields without spending a lot of money, said Alvetta Thomas, president of Atlanta Technical College. That campus increased enrollment by about 43 percent to 4,851 students.

Certificate programs run from 10 weeks to 14 months and diploma programs take between one to two years, depending on the area. Tuition typically costs about $2,400 a year, with much paid through federal grants and state programs, such as the HOPE grant.

Thomas said the schools successfully find students jobs. Atlanta Tech boasts a 98 percent job placement rate -- slightly higher than the 94 percent for the entire system.

What are students studying?

The 28 campuses offer about 600 programs, but about 40 percent of all students are enrolled in health care programs, according to system figures. Other popular subjects include business, computer information systems and areas such as welding, plumbing and heating, ventilating and air conditioning.

Nursing, other health care fields and blue-collar fields, such as plumbers and welders, are projected to see increases in jobs, according to estimates by the state Labor Department’s Workforce Information and Analysis Division.

Students are looking for careers that are recession-proof, Thomas said.

"Plumbers will still be needed and people will pay to get their heat fixed," she said. "People are also looking for careers that will allow them to run their own businesses."

When will the growth end?

The current growth is a sharp turn from the declines the system experienced between fiscal years 2004 and 2007 when enrollments dropped between 1.5 to 2.5 percent.

While much of the current increase is attributed to the economy, the system changed its name in 2006 and has improved marketing and recruiting efforts.

The system expects next quarter's enrollment figures to be about 20 percent higher than the previous year, spokesman Mike Light said. Projections show the system will teach about 185,000 students this fiscal year, compared to 156,000 during the 2009 fiscal year, he said.

"We don't know when it will level off," Light said. "The economy is the wild card."

Staff writer Michael E. Kanell contributed to this report.

Enrollment at metro Atlanta campuses

College ... Winter ‘08 ... Winter ‘09 ... % change

Atlanta Technical ... 3,403 ... 4,851 ... 43

Chattahoochee Technical* ... N/A ... 11,057 ... N/A

DeKalb Technical ... 3,898 ... 4,958 ... 27

Gwinnett Technical ... 5,232 ... 6,505 ... 24

System total ... 87,046 ... 109,548 ... 26

Source: Technical System of Georgia.

Note: Percentages are rounded. Chattahoochee Technical merged this year with Appalachian Technical College and North Metro Technical College.

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