May 2009

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Extending EDUCATION
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Arvin Scott

Extending EDUCATION

Campuses in Tifton, Griffin and Gwinnett allow UGA to reach beyond Athens

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Extending EDUCATION

Mary Leidner, district consultant for the USDA National Resources Conservation Service, teaches students from the Tifton campus about water and soil conservation during a trip to a local farm.

When Sarah Brewer graduated from high school and entered Gordon College four years ago she assumed she would transfer to UGA for her final two years of study.

It was not the ideal solution. Brewer had a management track job in her hometown of Williamson and a boyfriend there she planned to marry. So when she learned that she could get a UGA degree in consumer economics in Griffin—19 miles from her home—it was an easy decision.

“I didn’t have to move,” says Brewer, 22. “It’s closer to work and home and family.”

UGA began offering undergraduate and graduate degrees at its experiment station campus in Griffin in 2005. Degree programs at UGA’s Tifton station began two years earlier. Since the mid-1980s, UGA has offered graduate degree programs and continuing education courses at a variety of locations in Gwinnett County. Last summer, UGA moved those programs to a new facility just off I-85 in Lawrenceville, which provides space for future expansion.

“This really is a reflection of the concept that the state is our campus,” says Bob Boehmer, associate provost for institutional effectiveness and extended campus educational programs. “UGA has people, land and buildings at various locations around the state. We also have people in those areas who need access to everything from public services to master’s degrees in education.”

Currently, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences offers programs in Tifton, serving about 50 students. In Griffin, which draws from a larger population of students, programs are offered in agricultural and environmental science, business, family and consumer science, microbiology and education. About 125 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled at that campus. The Gwinnett campus draws in an additional 500-600 students earning graduate degrees in social work, education, pharmacy, food technology, business and public administration.

Another 271 students are enrolled in traditional, executive and fast-track MBA programs at the Terry College of Business campus in Atlanta’s Buckhead community.

The extended campuses offer students, who might be tied to a local community for work or family commitments, opportunities to pursue degrees that aren’t offered at nearby institutions.

Perry White, 23, got his associate’s degree at Abraham Baldwin College in Tifton and then transferred to UGA at Tifton to earn his bachelor’s degree in agricultural science and environmental systems.

“I get more hands-on learning (in Tifton),” says White, whose father and grandfather went to ABAC. “Lots of the people doing the studies and research are teaching the classes. What you’re learning you know you’re going to be using in your career.”

The extended campuses in Tifton and Griffin have long existed as experiment stations where UGA scientists conducted research. Tifton is home to research on coastal plain farming, while Griffin houses the university’s extensive food product safety division. When the university decided to offer classes at those sites, it meant students would be learning from some of the foremost experts in their fields.

Peggy Ozias-Akins, an internationally recognized horticulturist, is based in Tifton where she does genetics research on peanuts.

“It’s an important part of our mission overall,” Ozias-Akins says of the teaching component. “It has really been a positive change to the program.”

Communities that are home to the extended campuses understand their value as well. In Griffin, voters approved a special local option sales tax to pay for a student learning center on campus. The center is near completion and should be ready for student use in the fall of this year.

“The community was very excited about having this opportunity here,” says Marilyn Johnson, program coordinator for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences on the Griffin campus.

The Gwinnett campus has a different mission than Tifton and Griffin in that it offers only graduate level programs and continuing education programs for professionals.

UGA’s involvement in Gwinnett began in the mid-1980s with graduate and continuing education programs offered at various locations in the county. In 2002, UGA began offering bachelor’s degree completion programs at the Gwinnett University Center, where other University System of Georgia schools offered courses. When the Board of Regents in 2004 decided to create a four-year state college at that location, UGA stopped admitting students into its undergraduate programs there, though students already enrolled were given through spring 2008 to complete their degrees.

In order to be able to continue and increase UGA’s graduate and continuing education programs in Gwinnett, the university last summer moved its programs to the facility just off I-85 and Sugarloaf Parkway.

Currently classrooms are busy at night with students—many of them part-time—working on advanced degrees. In coming months, Boehmer says the population using the building will grow as demand in that area increases for graduate, continuing education and non-credit programs.

“Gwinnett is going to be filled during the daytime with non-credit opportunities,” he predicts.

For Atlanta resident Aiken Hackett, being able to take classes in the master of public administration program at the Gwinnett campus means less time in the car. It takes two hours in rush hour traffic to get to Athens for her 6:30 p.m. classes, compared to 20-30 minutes to get to Gwinnett.

“I have three more hours of my day to be able to work and take care of my life,” says Hackett, director of governmental affairs for the American College of Rheumatology.

Students have different reasons for wanting to attend the extended campuses. Many, like Brewer, want to stay close to home or need to live at home to save money. Others say simply that they don’t want to go to a big school. And while many students on the campuses now are traditional age, the schools also appeal to working adults who can’t commute to Athens to complete their education.

Angela Allen is one of those. Twenty years earlier she had gotten an associate’s degree from Valdosta State University before quitting school to get married. In 2006, with two grown children and an empty house, she had thought about returning to school. Colleges that offered programs of interest to her, however, were too far from her Thomaston home.

She was in her car one day when she noticed a billboard advertising UGA programs in Griffin. “UGA is closer than you think,” the billboard read. Allen copied the number from the ad and called the next morning. In 2008 she became the first student from the Griffin campus to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in consumer economics.

“If you can’t go to Athens, come here,” Allen tells potential students. “A UGA degree is a UGA degree.”

Indeed there is no distinction between the degrees, whether they’re earned on the main campus or on one of the extended campuses, Boehmer says. And unfortunately, for those who think getting in to Tifton or Griffin might be easier, students must meet the same requirements for admission and face the same academic demands. Students enrolling in the bachelor’s degree completion programs must complete at least 60 hours of transferable core coursework at another institution and have a GPA that meets UGA’s standards for admission.

Once admitted, students at the extended campuses have many of the same privileges as Athens students, though admittedly fewer. Instead of full commencement ceremonies, the schools have smaller receptions on their campuses. Students who want to participate in the May, December and August commencement events in Athens can do that, however.

“We encourage them to do it,” says Erin Womack, program coordinator for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the Tifton campus, “because it is the home of their university.”

Because the extended campuses are not residential campuses, there are no residence halls or dining facilities. However, each campus offers on-site student affairs activities and programs similar to some of those in Athens. Both the Griffin and Tifton campuses have student ambassadors who participate in recruiting events and conferences. Womack took students from Tifton to an Ambassador Leadership Conference at the University of Kentucky last year.

Students also are encouraged to participate in service learning projects in their communities. Last year, students in Griffin took part in a project with Chick-fil-A to raise money for a book scholarship fund.

The extended campuses also provide space for students to gather, study or relax. At Tifton, students have their own keys to the lounge and can get in on nights or weekends to use the computer or work on group projects.

“We’ll use a classroom to have our own study session rather than gathering at someone’s house,” says Kyle Dekle, 20, an agriculture education major at the Tifton campus.

Students get one-on-one attention from faculty and close guidance in registering for classes.

“I look over every single advising report every single semester,” Womack says. “I haven’t had a student yet that hasn’t graduated on time.”

That kind of intimacy can make it difficult to skip class, students joke.

“Pretty much everyone knows where you are if you aren’t there,” Dekle says.

The extended campuses are the key to the future for UGA, which has reached its enrollment limit at 32,500 students in Athens. University officials are exploring other programs that would be a good fit for the populations surrounding Tifton, Griffin and Gwinnett.

“We do feel like this campus has something to offer that a huge campus like Athens can’t,” Tifton’s Ozias-Akins says. “There’s more one on one. You have immediate access to business, faculty and fields.”

Get More

For information on UGA's extended campuses, go to http://www.uga.edu/academics/campuses.html.