2008-03-26 / Front Page

No sleepy little college!

Call it growing pains, if you will. The transition from Albany Technical College to Bainbridge College in Blakely has gone well since the July 2006 change.

"The transition has gone very well, evidenced by the students we have," stated Joan Simpson, director. "We have had great support from the main campus."

The Blakely campus has grown from an enrollment of 210 to over 650 students since becoming a part of Bainbridge College. Parking often spills over onto the unpaved areas of campus.

"Students can now earn their two-year degrees on the Blakely campus, and the LPN program will be available here in May," Simpson noted.

"We have been overwhelmed by the support in the community and the enrollment at this campus," Dr. Thomas A. Wilkerson told the News last week in an interview at the local campus. Dr. Wilkerson has been president of Bainbridge College since July 2005.

With growth there comes challenge. "There is a dire need for additional classroom space here and the library needs expanding,"Wilkerson stated.

Dr. Wilkerson Dr. Wilkerson The growth at the Blakely campus mirrors what is happening at the main campus in Bainbridge.

"Bainbridge College was expected to be a sleepy little community college when it was created in 1973," Wilkerson stated. "But, that hasn't been the case."

He noted that Bainbridge College's role changed almost immediately when it was one of four colleges in the state in which a technical unit was created.

Enrollment grew to 1,000 students by 1993 and the current enrollment is near 2,700 students. "And, we haven't built an academic building in all that time," Dr. Wilkerson stated. "We have three or four times the enrollment we were built for."

Dr. Wilkerson stated the Board of Regents has approved the construction of a 100,000 sq. ft., $24 million academic center on the main campus, expected to be completed in 2013.

"But, based on the Board of Regents' construction cycle and ability to meet all legitimate construction needs, if our enrollment meets just half the growth projections - another 1,000 students by 2010, over 8,000 by 2020 - we're going to be in a lot of trouble."

Joan Simpson Joan Simpson Bainbridge College is looking to a new initiative called PPV, Public-Private Venture, which has been authorized by the state allowing institutions to set up a real estate foundation which can legally borrow private bond money that is warranted by the state.

"That money would have to be paid back over a 30-year period," he stated. "But, it would allow us to fast track some buildings.

The Board of Trustees is considering a proposal to borrow $24 million for several projects, including the addition of a wing to the building on the Blakely campus.

Fast tracking the buildings needed to meet the growing enrollment will require a lot of community support.

In addition to additional classrooms on the main campus, plans include a student life center and buying facilities off campus in Bainbridge. And, the Kirbo Center, including a 500-seat auditorium and 300-seat dining facility, is expected to be completed this summer.

"Some may call our plans visionary. But, I don't think so. I don't want to be the person that has to stand in the door and tell students they can't come to Bainbridge College because 'we don't have room for you!'"

The Bainbridge College Foundation

"The foundation is wonderful. It keeps giving to students and that keeps investing back into the community," Dr. Wilkerson stated.

He noted that the foundation had been raising $18,000 to $20,000 a year, spending most of it on programs and expenses that could not be paid with tax dollars.

At the first foundation meeting he attended in 2005 the foundation had a balance of $59,000.

"I asked them to refocus the foundation to expand the fund to provide monies for scholarships," he stated. "I asked them to increase the foundation to $108,000. By the end of the first year the balance was $180,000. Today approximately $500,000, most invested in long term investments, draws interest annually for scholarships."

Thirteen scholarships were awarded in the spring of 2007, over 40 will be available this spring. The goal is for the foundation to reach the $1 million mark by 2010.

Dr.Wilkerson added that some of that money is coming from Early County. "Individuals here have responded postively and generously."

He pointed to the nursing degree program as an example of how important the scholarships can be.

"A lot of those students come into the program from $8 or $9 an hour jobs," he said. "They graduate from the program, pass the licensing exam and start making $35,000 and $40,000 a year."

"It picks that whole family up and brings them closer to realizing a piece of the American dream." FACT: Average age of students is 27, about 73% female, most from within 25 miles

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