Originally a cotton-trading center and one of the South’s earliest and largest mill towns, Columbus began to diversify its economy in the 1960s and is now home to multibillion dollar companies Aflac and Synovus Financial Corporation, both of which have been ranked among the “Best Companies to Work for in America” by Fortune magazine. In addition to Muscogee County, the college’s service area includes Chattahoochee, Harris, Quitman, and Stewart counties. Columbus Tech provides numerous job-training programs for local companies. The college is a member of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG).
Columbus Tech’s origins date back to 1961, when the Columbus Area Vocational-Technical School, operating as a unit of the Muscogee County School District, opened with thirty-nine students enrolled in eight different programs. Jere M. Richardson was the school’s first director. In 1966, under the leadership of Perry Gordy, who replaced Richardson in 1965, the school merged with the Muscogee Area Vocational-Technical School at Columbus Tech’s present-day location. A $500,000 addition to the campus was completed in 1967.
A $2.6 million expansion ten years later doubled floor space. W. G. Hartline became president in 1979, and in 1981 Columbus Tech became one of only three technical schools in Georgia to offer an associate degree in engineering technology. A $6.8 million expansion followed in 1985, and the school, then called Columbus Technical Institute, officially converted to state governance in 1987, becoming part of the newly formed Department of Technical and Adult Education (DTAE) in 1988. Eugene Demonet succeeded Hartline as president of the school in 1995.
In 2000, due to legislation (Georgia House Bill 1187) that allowed technical institutes offering associate degrees to be called colleges, the school became Columbus Technical College. Further expansion was implemented by current president J. Robert Jones in 2001, when the school purchased twenty-nine acres adjacent to its existing campus (formerly owned by carpet manufacturer Beaulieu of America) for the site of a new health sciences building. According to the DTAE’s 2005 annual report, 6,245 students were enrolled in certificate, diploma, or degree programs at Columbus Tech. An additional 1,354 students were enrolled in noncredit courses.
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 Columbus 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 General Education Development (GED) diploma for admission to all degree and diploma programs and most certificate programs. Once accepted, 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.
Columbus Tech’s most popular programs are in health sciences. New offerings in nursing, pharmacy technology, and dental assisting, together with an increased demand for health care providers in Georgia, have inspired the college’s first capital campaign to raise money for the construction of a high-tech health sciences facility. Columbus-based companies Aflac and Synovus both pledged $1 million to the campaign, and in 2007 the state legislature approved $16.285 million for the new facility. The campus expansion, which will include additional buildings over time, will allow Columbus Tech to accept larger numbers of qualified applicants to health-related programs and to better accommodate the school’s growing computer technology programs. Meanwhile, in 2006, the school received a $216,455 grant to extend its registered nursing program to Flint River Technical College (later Southern Crescent Technical College) in Thomaston and West Georgia Technical College in LaGrange.
Columbus Tech is equally committed to its economic development services. In anticipation of the 2009 opening of a Kia automotive plant in West Point (in Harris and Troup counties), Columbus Tech, together with West Central Technical College in Carrollton and West Georgia Tech, began an automotive assembly technician certificate program. (West Central Tech and West Georgia Tech later merged in July 2009 to become West Georgia Technical College, based in Waco, in Haralson County.)
The school has also partnered with numerous area businesses and industries to produce trained and certified employees through such initiatives as Quick Start, a nationally recognized program that develops training for new and existing industries in Georgia; a Service Industry Academy; the first Manufacturing Academy in Georgia; and other workforce development programs.
In 2000 Columbus Tech provided specialized job training for more than seventy local companies. Cessna Aircraft used Columbus Tech’s Quick Start program to expand its Columbus production facility in 2001. In 2003 gunmaker Heckler & Koch located an operations facility in Columbus, taking advantage of both the city’s proximity to the U.S. Army’s Fort Benning and Columbus Tech’s Quick Start program. In 2004 the payment-processing firm Remitco and spherical airships manufacturer Techsphere Systems International also established Quick Start partnerships through Columbus Tech.