Okefenokee Technical College is located in Waycross, the seat of Ware County. A satellite campus is located in Alma (Bacon County), and learning centers are located in the college’s additional service delivery counties, Brantley, Charlton, Clinch, and Pierce. Employment in these counties comes primarily from the manufacturing and service sectors, and the most popular program at Okefenokee Tech in 2005, based on the number of graduates, was industrial mechanics and maintenance technology. The college is part of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG).
The first students enrolled in the Waycross–Ware County Area Vocational-Technical School in 1965. The original campus comprised two buildings totaling 38,678 square feet. In 1977 a third facility was built, adding 21,000 square feet and space for three health services programs. Waycross-Ware Tech converted from local to state governance in 1989, coming under the direction of the newly formed Department of Technical and Adult Education (DTAE). At that time the school became known as Okefenokee Technical Institute.
Expansion continued in the 1990s with the addition of an adult literacy center, a forest technology classroom, and a 6,000-square-foot child care and education center. Other expansions and renovations increased the size of the Waycross campus by one third. In 1998 Okefenokee Tech opened a satellite campus in Alma and in 2000 acquired a short rail line, a modular building to house the environmental horticulture and commercial truck driving programs, a greenhouse, and another modular building for the freight conductor program.
Also in 2000, due to legislation (Georgia House Bill 1187) that allowed technical institutes offering associate degrees to become colleges, the school acquired its current name, Okefenokee Technical College. The main campus in Waycross as well as the satellite campus in Alma continued to expand between 2000 and 2007, when the state approved a budget request for a new allied health building on the main campus and renovation costs for a new campus facility at Alma.
According to the DTAE’s 2005 annual report, 3,403 students were enrolled in certificate, diploma, or degree programs at Okefenokee Tech. An additional 895 students were enrolled in noncredit courses, and 984 students were enrolled in adult literacy programs, which are offered in each of the college’s service delivery counties. Gail G. Thaxton, the college’s current president, was appointed in 2005.
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 Okefenokee Tech relies on eligibility and academic criteria: candidates must be at least sixteen years old (seventeen for medical programs). All degree and diploma programs and some certificate programs require a high school or General Education Development (or GED) diploma prior to admission. If standards for a certain credit program 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.
In addition to industrial mechanics and maintenance technology, popular programs at Okefenokee Tech include data entry and nursing. Since January 2006, the college has held ten graduation ceremonies for its freight conductor program, which is only offered when jobs for conductors are available. Okefenokee Tech exhibited its locomotive electrical systems technical certificate in Atlanta at the 2007 “Taste of the Technical Colleges,” an event that showcases valued programs in technical education. In April of that year, the college began its electrical lineworker apprenticeship program, thanks in part to a monetary donation from Georgia Power Company.
Okefenokee Tech’s economic development programs include continuing education classes and customized employee training. The college has also partnered with Quick Start, a nationally recognized program that develops training for new and existing industries in Georgia, to provide training for such area businesses as Simmons Company, the country’s second-largest mattress manufacturer.
Okefenokee Tech also participates in dual enrollment programs with local high schools. High school students eager to get a head start on their careers can attend courses at the college and receive both high school and college credit. Participants can earn a technical certificate of credit and choose to move directly into the job market, to continue their technical education at Okefenokee Tech or another technical college, or to attend a four-year university.