Commissioner, chancellor tout collaboration between TCSG and USG
Georgia’s top two post-secondary education officials teamed up in Athens Wednesday, October 16, to launch a series of talks promoting a new spirit of cooperation between the Technical College System of Georgia and the University System of Georgia.
TCSG Commissioner Ron Jackson and USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby spoke to an early morning gathering at the Athens First Bank & Trust community room and talked about what their respective educational systems are doing individually and collaboratively to improve college access, keep students in college, increase the number of graduates, and build the regional and state workforce.
The two men followed up their morning appearance with a presentation to the Athens Rotary Club at the Holiday Inn for lunch. They plan to visit other communities around the state to spread the message that they have established a strong partnership to educate the state’s workers and prepare them to meet the needs of employers today and in the future.
Clarke County School District representatives, Athens Area Chamber of Commerce members, Athens-Clarke County elected officials, administrators from the University of Georgia and from local media attended the Athens First morning session which started off with introductions by chamber President Doc Eldridge.
“Education is the economic engine that pulls this (community) train, followed by health care,” Mr. Eldridge said. “With the University of Georgia, its College of Public Health, and Athens Technical College, it’s appropriate that Commissioner Jackson and Chancellor Huckaby kick this series off in Athens and work together to improve the quality of life and welfare of the state.”
Commissioner Jackson told the crowd that the state’s two higher education systems are working to make sure Georgia’s future work force – including that of the Athens community -- meets the high quality standards and needs of the companies and businesses that are competing in a global economy. He reminded the group that by 2020, 60 percent of the work force will need some level of higher education.
Both of the state’s post-secondary education systems will focus on working with the Georgia K-12 system to ensure that by the time students achieve their high school diploma or GED they are well prepared for college and careers, he said.
Under initiatives from Gov. Nathan Deal, the TCSG and USG are working to increase the current number of post-secondary graduates by 250,000 by the year 2020, he said.
To emphasize the increasing competitiveness of the global market, the commissioner cited the recent trip he and the chancellor made to China, where they found a huge population benefitting from a robust educational system.
“Students there are hungry and anxious to learn, and their parents are demanding students excel,” he said. “We are competing globally for a work force that understands technology.”
He also stressed that technology is a critical aspect of today’s and tomorrow’s jobs, and that technical colleges can provide the programs people need to become qualified to compete for those positions.
“Technical training is often overlooked, but people need to understand that community colleges like Athens Technical College are not the trade schools of your daddy,” Commissioner Jackson said. “The welder on a nuclear power plant in Georgia has to have technical skills.”
He added that even bulldozer drivers require special technical training now because modern equipment uses GPS systems and other computer software, and joysticks have replaced steering wheels.
“It takes a different level of skills and understanding to run bulldozers today, and community colleges like Athens Tech can provide those skills,” he said.
Chancellor Huckaby, who was selected to head up the University System of Georgia in 2011, said he asked Gov. Deal if he was willing to make changes in how the system conducted business. Huckaby said he told the governor that they needed to end the “warfare” between TCSG and USG and that a key word in their future relationship would be collaboration. The result has been an increased number of articulation agreements that would allow students to transfer earned credits between one higher education system and the other.
Many of today’s high school graduates are not adequately prepared for college or careers, and it’s up to the university system to improve its performance in training the teachers responsible for students in K-12.
“We train a high percentage of the teachers,” he said. “We have 22 teacher education programs, and they all have to perform better.”
The two higher education systems also must look to online instruction as a means of reaching and educating students and increasing graduation numbers he said.
In his other remarks, the chancellor noted that the country’s Founding Fathers outlined another purpose to higher education than simply workforce development.
“The need and value of education is not just an economical purpose, but it’s for the preservation of our democracy and of our values and mores that built this country,” he said.
Athens Technical College President Flora Tydings spoke briefly following the chancellor. She reinforced the theme of collaboration by telling attendees that credit earned in more than 80 classes taught at Athens Technical College currently can be transferred to UGA.
“The University of Georgia is a huge partner with us,” she said.
The commissioner and chancellor fielded questions from the audience at the end of the program.
Photo caption: Athens Tech Foundation Chairman Ed Graham, left, and Athens Technical College President Flora Tydings, right, speak with TCSG Commissioner Ron Jackson Wednesday, Oct. 16. In the background, USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby greets attendees of the meeting held at Athens First Bank & Trust in Athens.