During the last half of the last century â€“ 1968 to be precise â€“ in what now seems a simpler time, a group of Romeâ€™s movers and shakers began to talk about the need for a public college in Floyd County. In particular, James D. Maddox, an attorney and former member of the Board of Regents, developed the concept and pushed the idea to his colleagues in Rome.
Maddox energetically did the legwork of several people, convincing the Board of Regents that a college in Rome was needed and would be attended, persuading politicians to support the idea and finally finding a parcel of land in Floyd County on 250 acres to house the institution.
The citizens of Rome endorsed the idea via a SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), which covered the cost of infrastructure â€“ sewer, water, gas and electric lines â€“ to the property. The process took two years, but in 1970, with the first building still under construction, Floyd Junior College temporarily opened its doors in downtown Rome in the old Harbin Clinic building at East Third Avenue and East First Street.
Nearly 550 students were enrolled, sitting in chairs and juggling their textbooks on their laps. The faculty didnâ€™t fare much better in the beginning. They used cardboard desks purchased for the interim phase for $4.00 each. But there was a sense of adventure and excitement. The 19 faculty members and five or six administrators were creating an honorable endeavor from scratch, and that fueled their energy. They were able to lay the foundations for the collegeâ€™s future.
And what a future it has turned out to be. The first building, the administrative building on the Floyd campus was ready in November and the academic (subsequently named Walraven), physical education and physical plant buildings were move-in ready in December, in time for the second quarter of the academic year. (At the time, Georgia and many other states were still on the quarter system.) Those first three buildings have since been expanded by two additional buildings on the Floyd campus, one campus in Cartersville and four other sites â€“ Heritage Hall, a historic building in downtown Rome that houses nursing and dental hygiene programs; Marietta, situated on the campus of Southern Polytechnic State University; Paulding County, located on the picturesque square in downtown Dallas; and Douglasville, operating in a beautifully renovated grocery store. The latter collaboration with developer and city officials won an award from the Board of Regents for creative collaboration in the use of space.
As with any enterprise, Georgia Highlands has suffered through challenges and setbacks. After a program in the 1990s that required students to lease laptop computers, the collegeâ€™s enrollment dropped. But after the program was discontinued, enrollment began increasing again, and didnâ€™t slow down until this year, when the effects of the recession took their toll. Nevertheless, this collegeâ€™s history hasnâ€™t been one of numbers, but rather of people.
The faculty has always focused on student needs and individuality. There are incredible stories of adversity and the heroic efforts to overcome it. Stories about faculty members going the extra 300 miles to help students be successful. Dr. Barry Carr, a successful veterinarian in Rome, recounts the time that one of his professors drove him to Athens to take the entrance exam for vet school. Other faculty members have helped students cram for a variety of exams. In fact, students invariably cite the personal attention and caring attitudes of faculty members as being one of the most beneficial and impactful attributes of attending GHC.
Through the years the college mission has remained the same: to provide an accessible and affordable education to students throughout Northwest Georgia, many of whom might not otherwise be able to go to college. But it hasnâ€™t remained stagnant within that mission. It cultivated cooperative agreements with North Metro Technical College, Georgia Northwestern Technical College (when it was still Coosa Valley Technical College), Kennesaw State University, the University of West Georgia and Dalton State College. While the types of degrees offered under these arrangements have changed over the years, the relationships are still strong. The latest collaborations include Kennesaw State and West Georgia. Each is a partner at one of our new sites in Paulding County and Douglasville, respectively. Kennesaw has begun offering a baccalaureate degree in early childhood education at Paulding. West Georgia will also offer selected courses and in-demand programs in Douglasville, probably by 2012.
Academics isnâ€™t the only area of evolution, however. During 2009/2010, the college commissioned a feasibility study to explore the viability of an athletic program. Students voted to impose a fee to support it. Initial sports will be limited, growing as interest in athletics grows. Plans for a new student center in Cartersville include an indoor track and basketball courts, which will no doubt increase interest. Teams will play as part of the National Junior College Athletic Association. This new initiative will result in the addition of specialty coaches for the chosen sports. Land on the Floyd and Cartersville campuses already exists for the development of athletic fields as the need arises. The original Floyd locker rooms will ultimately be renovated and updated.
As the institution turns its eye to the future, it can exploit its considerable strengths to stay healthy and viable, despite dwindling state funds. The nursing program, one of the flagship programs for which the college is known, has almost doubled in the last five years. Besides holding classes in Rome at James D. Maddox Heritage Hall, the college offers the program to students in Marietta through its collaboration with WellStar Health System. By 2020, projections show that there will be only about 40,000 nurses, but a need for 80,000. The reasons include population growth, which continues steadily in Georgia, and the increase in the elderly population as Baby-Boomers age.
Now that Georgia Health Sciences University (formerly the Medical College of Georgia) has decided to bring its residency program to Rome, it may be time to explore the possibility of offering a Bachelor of Science in nursing. The feasibility study has been completed, and additional planning is underway before presentation to the Board of Regents, which should take place soon.
All in all, Georgia Highlands College can boast a venerable history. Looking forward, the future looks like it may be just as bright â€“ if not even more distinguished. One thing is for sure: all involved never want to turn their backs on the real secret to their success â€“ the students who overcome so much, accommodate so much, make radical family adjustments and endure such hardship just to ensure their place on the college rolls.
GHCâ€™s 40th anniversary is more about those students than it is about our achievements. They are the reason our faculty are motivated, the cause of joyful tears at graduation, the source of the academic communityâ€™s continuous inspiration. To all students past and present â€“ we thank you for adding meaning to our days and pleasure to our memories.