The Acworth site on Monday reported an enrollment of 3,856 on the first day of fall quarter classes -- up 18 percent from last fall's 3,266. Overall, the seven-campus technical college had 13,287 students, representing a 15.4 percent increase over the 11,515 total a year ago.
"What does that tell us? Part of it is so many people, God bless them, are out of work and they need that educational training," said Ron Newcomb, provost and executive vice president for the college. "Some people, even if they are working, are worried about the need for strengthening their position at the company or being prepared to look for a job if [they] have to. And I think a third part of it is the positive reputation -- the news, the story, the headline about Chattahoochee Tech is really disseminated widely now into the six-county area that we serve."
The North Metro Campus had the second-highest enrollment of the seven physical campuses, with the Marietta location reporting the largest turnout of 5,533. More than 4,200 students enrolled are taking online courses, according to a campus-by-campus breakdown provided by school officials Wednesday. The numbers include some duplicates, however, as individuals may attend classes at more than one site and/or take classes both online and in physical classrooms.
The significant enrollment increase in Acworth led school staff to create additional parking spaces in grassy areas around the campus and along the sides of some of the roads.
Cartersville resident Terri Gardner did not experience difficulties in finding a parking space Wednesday, as she made it to campus early. But she may have experienced firsthand the effects of an increased enrollment during the afternoon while waiting in line to purchase a book for class from the campus bookstore.
"The line has been long -- it's been in the breezeway ever since this morning," she said. "I got here this morning about 7:30, and it's been this way all day long."
A 1974 graduate of Cass High School, Gardner is in her fourth quarter in the college as she studies business technology. She said despite the waiting in line and the possible parking difficulties she could face down the road, putting up with those problems is worth it.
"It's worth it to me because I'm in that bracket where I'm in between -- I'm too old for anybody to want to hire me, yet I'm too young to just lie around," Gardner said. "And I don't have enough money to go to Japan.
"When I first started, I didn't know anything about computers. When I first went to school, we didn't even have cell phones. Here I am, a person that graduated over 30 years ago, so I'm starting over," she added. "Everything that I'm here for now, everything that I learn is going to help me, and whatever job market that they can help place me in is going to be a plus for me."
Just in front of Gardner in line was fellow Cartersville resident Chris Rucker, in his third quarter at the college as he studies computer information systems. He too said the first-day problems are nothing compared to his need to obtain career training -- he was previously with Trinity Rail in Cartersville before losing job when the plant shut down last year.
"I'm trying to get out of those hard-labor jobs and work somewhere where I can be in climate-controlled [environments] and not have to lift and stuff like that," Rucker said. "You can't really find a decent job anymore without having extra training besides high school, so it will be worth it in the long run, hopefully."
With the Acworth campus and other Chattahoochee Tech sites at or near capacity, some help is on the way, though officials hope even more will be coming.
College officials will open the school's eighth campus site in Canton in January. The 60,000-plus-square-foot building will feature nine classrooms, a tiered lecture hall, medical labs, an Allied Health area, computer labs, student center and more.
Beyond that, school leaders hope to get state officials to fund a new site slated to be built in Bartow County. The proposed Transportation, Logistics and Manufacturing Center would allow the college to relocate and expand its current Diesel, Commercial Truck Driving and Industrial Systems Technology programs, as well as give it the ability to add new programs in its affected industries. The move of programs also would open up thousands of square feet of lab and classroom space at its North Metro Campus in Acworth and Appalachian Campus in Jasper.
Newcomb said state technical college officials have put the proposed site on a list of three construction projects they wish to see funded. In the coming months, school leaders hope to see the governor lend his support to the project and push it toward General Assembly approval.
"We desperately need more space, and the best prospect we have is for that building to move forward, which essentially will be kind of a new 'mini-campus' up there in the northwest side of Cartersville," Newcomb said. "But the process isn't overnight -- it's a good three- to four-year process before you get the key to the place by the time you get through the state process to get something built."
The future facility, he added, would significantly impact the North Metro Campus, which had a new building open on its campus just last year.
"The Health Education Center that we just opened a year ago is just slammed," Newcomb said. "We've pushed our schedule out in the last couple of quarters more and more onto Fridays and Saturdays. If you come by here on Saturdays you'll see classes occurring in the Health Education Center. We are, as I put it sometimes, a '5.75 day a week school' -- we operate Fridays and Saturdays, which means that we get better efficiency out of our facilities.
"And we're out of space. That's why the Transportation, Logistics and Manufacturing Center ... we have our hopes up about that."