Athens Technical College is located in Athens, the seat of Clarke County, northeast Georgia’s center for commerce and trade, health services, and cultural arts. Three off-campus facilities in Elberton (Elbert County), Greensboro (Greene County), and Monroe (Walton County) offer additional courses and programming through Athens Tech. As of 2006 Athens Regional Medical Center, Ty Cobb Healthcare System ( Hart County), and Minnie G. Boswell Memorial Hospital (Greene County) are among the largest employers in the college’s service delivery area, which, in addition to Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Hart, and Walton counties, also includes Madison, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Taliaferro, and Wilkes counties. In 2005 approximately 40 percent of Athens Tech graduates received degrees in health services fields. A more recent commitment to the medical industry was Athens Tech’s decision to expand its biotechnology curriculum in an effort to attract biotechnology industries to Georgia. The college is a member of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG).
Athens Tech’s origins date back to 1958, when the Clarke County School District together with the Georgia Department of Education established the Athens Area Vocational-Technical School. Robert Shellnut was the school’s first director. Classes were held in former army barracks in downtown Athens until 1966, when the school relocated to a new facility three miles from downtown. In 1980, after two expansion projects, the facility boasted more than 155,000 square feet of classrooms, laboratories, and administrative offices.
Under the leadership of Kenneth Easom, president of the school from 1985 until 2003, Athens Tech joined the statewide system of technical institutes governed by the State Board of Technical and Adult Education (later Department of Technical and Adult Education, or DTAE) in 1986, and the following year the school’s name changed to Athens Area Technical Institute. In 1989 the institute assumed responsibility for providing adult literacy programs throughout its service area. These programs include basic reading and math classes, English as a second language courses, General Educational Development (GED) preparation courses, and workplace literacy classes.
A third expansion to Athens Tech in 1995 added 34,000 square feet of classroom, library, and office space, and included the opening of the Walton County location as well as groundbreaking ceremonies for a satellite campus in Elberton, which officially opened in 1997. Athens Tech’s Greene County location opened in 1998.
In 2000 Athens Tech became Athens Technical College due to legislation (Georgia House Bill 1187) that allowed technical institutes offering associate degrees to be called colleges. That same year, the school acquired 10 additional acres of land and an 8,000-square-foot building across from the Athens campus. In 2003 Flora W. Tydings became president and work began on a new 41,000-square-foot business and information technology building, which opened in 2005.
According to the DTAE’s 2005 annual report, 6,151 students were enrolled in certificate, diploma, or degree programs, and 5,934 additional students were enrolled in noncredit courses; 4,152 students were enrolled in adult literacy programs offered through the college.
In 2007 the DTAE created the Technical College System of Georgia, an entity comprising the thirty-four colleges under its administration, and in 2008 the DTAE’s name officially changed to TCSG.
Technical Education and Economic Development Programs
The TCSG, in overseeing the state’s system of thirty-four technical colleges, its economic and workforce development programs, and its adult literacy program, has as its primary objective to create a well-educated, technically trained, and highly competitive workforce to ensure the economic success of the state and its citizens.
As with other technical colleges governed by the TCSG, admission to Athens Tech relies on eligibility and academic criteria: candidates must be at least sixteen years old (older for some programs) and must be high school graduates or possess a GED. If these requirements are met, students can earn an associate degree, an expanded program of study that facilitates career mobility and continuing education at the baccalaureate level; a traditional diploma; or a technical certificate of credit, a short-term targeted program that prepares students for specific jobs. High school students interested in dual enrollment programs at Athens Tech must be at least sixteen years old and have successfully completed the ninth grade or higher.
Athens Tech’s associate degree, diploma, and technical certificate of credit programs include early childhood education, personal services, computer science, and business. Majors in health professions are the most popular and include registered nurse training as well as programs in dental hygiene, radiography, respiratory therapy, and other areas. In 2005 the school accepted only 273 out of more than 1,500 applicants to these health programs.
A $16 million biomanufacturing and life sciences building on the Athens Tech campus has been proposed to accommodate the school’s growing number of nursing applicants. Furthermore, in 2006 Athens Tech and Gwinnett Technical College were corecipients of a $1.9 million grant to create the Georgia Bioscience Technology Institute, which will use state-of-the-art laboratories on both campuses to train teachers and students in biotech concepts and techniques.
A recent focus at Athens Tech outside of medical services is culinary arts. In fall 2006 the college began offering professional culinary training. Another initiative is Athens Tech’s partnership, through Quick Start, a nationally recognized program that develops training for new and existing industries in Georgia, with Washington International Non-Wovens, a business located in Washington, Georgia. Athens Tech provides free job training for the plant workers who manufacture a variety of non-woven products such as vent and filter material and scouring pads.