Georgia Highlands College President Randy Pierce announced his retirement this fall after serving nearly 40 years in education, taking over the institution in 2001.
"I think coming in 2001, during the interview process ... it was evident that Georgia Highlands College was going to become a global institution and that the Cartersville campus was going to be built and that process, in terms of land acquisition, had moved pretty far along ... So it was pretty obvious to me that Cartersville was going to be a big part of life and tenure as the president of Floyd College, now Georgia Highlands College, and it has been," Pierce said.
In 2005, GHC opened the doors to the Cartersville campus after changing its name from Floyd College in 2001.
"I believe [the Cartersville campus] has had a huge impact on Georgia Highlands and what it is today," Pierce said. "It is one of the campuses we look to in terms of future expansion, in terms of land available and also growth patterns. It's one of the campuses we look to in terms of great things.
"... In terms of the next 10 years, you haven't seen anything yet. We've set the stage now and poised the institution to go to the next level and I think you'll see a lot of growth, a lot of programmatic change and growth in the institution and you'll see the satellite campuses, so-to-speak, as an integral part of where all the growth is actually going to take place. And so you're going to see a great deal of pairing in terms of numbers of students and programs at [all campus] locations, not just Cartersville."
He said something that sets the Cartersville campus apart from other GHC campuses is when it was built.
"Cartersville is very special in that everything there is relatively new, comparatively, when you think of the campus in Rome that is 40 years old," Pierce said, adding that new buildings like the student center will continue to change the look of the campus.
He said the projects planned when the campus opened in 2005 are "on target."
"I don't think we've really seen any surprises," Pierce said. "One of the things I think we do a really good job at is data-driven planning and predicting where the needs are going to be and what we're going to need to do at any of the campuses at any particular time."
He said he feels the biggest obstacle facing post-secondary education today is funding, which leads to issues accessing higher education.
"The issue is that we've [physically grown] in an economic environment that has seen a [shrinking] state budget coming out of the 10 years I've been here, and it appears if we're going to continue the 2.5 percent cut that we had last year ... If we had not had the phenomenal student enrollment growth, we wouldn't have been able to handle it," Pierce said.
He said the state originally awarded the Cartersville campus in 2005 about $7,000 for every full-time equivalent student and that the allocation today is less than $3,000.
"Financing higher education is going to continue to be an issue because I don't think you'll ever see that funding come back from the state. I think you'll see higher education generally look at other sources of financing; I think accountability for the retention and progression toward graduation will continue ... Right now the state legislature has a committee looking at a formula for how we fund higher education, they also have committees looking at tying funding to some of the accountability issues, some of the big issues out there like graduation rates and retention rates and those kind of things, so I think higher education as I have known it for the 40 years I've been a part of it is going to change and is under a significant process of change now," Pierce said. "... I think it's going to be tied more to the work force, tied to jobs and the kind of things that are needed out there ... and so I think we're going to have to be much more responsive to those kinds of things in the future."
He said while colleges statewide are facing the same issues, it was important to see the benefits of having the institution in Cartersville.
"There's not a community in the state of Georgia that would not revel in having a campus like Cartersville's in their community and I think the Cartersville and Bartow community and the leadership there realizes [the campus] there truly is a treasure that's going to just continue to keep giving and we all know and the community knows the campus is linked to economic development in the region in terms of attracting companies like Toyo to the area because there is an educational opportunity in the area," Pierce said.
Beyond volunteer work and pursuing possible money-making opportunities, Pierce said he plans to relax during his retirement.
"My hope is that I will have an opportunity to decompress from a job that has a lot of stress attached to it -- there are some great things to it, but it also carries a lot of stress," Pierce said. "... The one thing I would like to have the opportunity to do is just kind of sit back and contemplate the nature of things and maybe the future and think about it a little bit, not really have to do anything specific, but I don't know if I'll have that opportunity."
During his tenure, enrollment at GHC has increased 131 percent, from 2,400 students in fall 2001 to 5,529 in fall 2011. In May, the Board of Regents approved state college status for Georgia Highlands, which allows it to offer for the first time a Bachelor of Science in nursing.