Located 135 miles south of Atlanta in Americus, amid the lush farmland of Sumter County, Georgia Southwestern State University is a senior unit of the University System of Georgia and the alma mater of former president Jimmy Carter.
Granted 270 acres of land by Sumter County along the Seaboard Airline Railroad, the school was originally founded in 1906 as the Third District Agricultural and Mechanical School. Its primary mission was to provide male and female students over the age of thirteen skills in all aspects of farming and agricultural business as well as basic business and industrial training. In early 1926 the Georgia General Assembly granted school leaders a new charter that allowed them to offer college-level courses toward a two-year degree. The school also changed its name to the Third District Agricultural and Normal College. That same year the school opened its first library.
The most important consequence of the new charter was the growth of the college curriculum, most of which focused on education courses and teacher training. This emphasis flourished because the state department of education granted teacher certification to graduates.
By 1932 there were so many higher education institutions in Georgia that the legislature decided to organize them all into the University System of Georgia under the jurisdiction of the state Board of Regents. The school changed its name to Georgia Southwestern College (GSC) but continued its primary mission as a two-year state teachers college. In the 1950s the needs of the region began to change, and the Board of Regents recognized that educational offerings at GSC should be expanded. In the fall of 1964, GSC began its transition into a four-year school. In June 1968 the institution’s first baccalaureate degrees were conferred.
In June 1973 the Board of Regents approved the first graduate programs, allowing GSC to grant a Master of Education degree. This was followed with a Specialist in Education in the summer of 1982, a Master of Science in administration in the winter of 1983, and a Master of Science in computer science in the spring of 1986. Indeed, course offerings greatly expanded in the 1980s and 1990s. In July 1996 the Board of Regents authorized state university status for Georgia Southwestern State University.
In fall 2004 the university had 2,102 undergraduate and 221 graduate students. The school has thirty-five buildings, highlighted by the impressive James Earl Carter Sr. Library, named for the father of former president Jimmy Carter. Housing more than 190,000 volumes, this facility was a charter member of the high-tech Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET). Along with many other online services, it provides users access to more than 30 million books and other library items.
With 114 faculty members, the teacher-student ratio is a comfortable 16:1. Operating on a semester system, Georgia Southwestern offers fifty-two associate, thirty-six baccalaureate, and nineteen master’s degree majors in arts and sciences, business administration, computer and information sciences, education, nursing, and general studies. Among its centers, institutes, and international programs are the Association of Third World Studies, Center for Adventure Education and Elderhostel Studies, Center for Business and Economic Development, Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, Small Business Development Center, Southwest Georgia Writing Project, and the World Communities Theater.
Led by President Michael Hanes since August 1996, the university has also maintained a close working relationship with the Americus–Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, Habitat for Humanity, and the Andersonville National Historic Site. Among its most distinguished alumni are Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and former U.S. attorney general Griffin Bell.
Georgia Southwestern operates under the auspices of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. In spite of the university’s abortive experiment with intercollegiate football, which ended in 1989, men’s and women’s intercollegiate sports and intramural sports and recreation programs have been highly successful. In 2002 alone, the women’s volleyball and softball teams and the men’s baseball team won conference titles. Overall, the university’s athletic teams have had forty-four all-Americans and won thirty-five conference championships.
In the 1990s a modern new building opened to house the School of Education. With such new facilities as the Student Success Center, scheduled to open in 2005, and one of the state’s best faculty-student ratios, Georgia Southwestern’s leadership promotes the school to prospective students as an institution that offers both a relaxed atmosphere and a quality education.