Each December, I generally reflect on the closing year and imagine what might come next in the new year. This year we have all been impacted by the pandemic. It would be easy to dwell on what went wrong, but I like to make sure I remember to think about what went right, too.
Professionally, it has been one of the most difficult years of my career, but it has also been one of the most rewarding in many ways. When put to the test, I found our students and employees at Dalton State College rose to meet the challenge. We celebrated the December graduates this week in a virtual ceremony. You can see our virtual ceremony by searching “online celebration” at daltonstate.edu. These students persevered and completed their degrees despite all the forces working against them.
Once again, Dalton State is on track to graduate a record number of students this academic year despite the pandemic. Our faculty worked harder than ever to provide quality instruction both on campus and online for our students. Often, our students shifted from one format to the other throughout the semester as their quarantine requirements changed. Most of our students were able to keep up with their classes and finish the semester despite the chaos of the pandemic. Similarly, our staff offered both in-person and virtual services and activities so students could interact with their peers outside the classroom and get assistance or support in the format they needed at that time. I am grateful we could serve our students so effectively and safely this fall.
We are also on target for a record number of admission applications for this January 2021. Time will tell us more about these new students, but we believe students are transferring from other campuses to be closer to home and/or on our smaller campus which offers more personal support. Even in a few short months, we have developed a reputation as an institution that is serving our students well during this pandemic. We are glad we can be that college for our students and our region.
I am also proud to read the statistics in a recent study released by the University of Georgia and the University System of Georgia. In a study compiled by Jeffrey M. Humphreys, director of UGA’s Selig Center for Economic Growth, we find Dalton State is a substantial contributor to our region’s and state’s economy. While the overall estimated economic impact of $138 million for Dalton State in fiscal year 2019 is similar to previous years, we learned new information about the value of our graduates to our community, particularly those who earn four-year degrees.
In fiscal year 2019, we graduated 817 students and nearly two-thirds of those graduates earned four-year degrees. All students with a college credential are estimated to earn significantly more income over their lifetimes than those with only a high school diploma.
According to the Selig Center study, “graduates of the University System of Georgia in 2019 who work in Georgia can expect lifetime earnings of $170 billion, of which $59 billion (35%) represents the incremental work-life earnings that can be attributed to their degrees. On average, that amounts to an additional $888,563 in work-life earnings per graduate. More specifically, higher education credentials increase the work-life earnings of the median Georgia resident by $183,475 (certificate), $415,570 (associate) and $1,211,615 (bachelor’s).”
Our graduates are not only helping themselves, they are contributing to the economy of our state and our region. This fall, 87% of our students came to us from the six counties surrounding our campus in Dalton. Most of these students remain in our region or our state after graduation to fill jobs and raise their families. In fact, many of our students are already employed in our community prior to graduation. After graduation they will likely earn a higher rate of pay and contribute even more to our economy.
According to a survey of our spring 2020 graduates, the majority (54%) of these students were employed before or upon graduation and 72% were employed full-time. Approximately 70% were employed in the Dalton region and 80% were employed in Georgia.
Despite all that has gone wrong since the start of the pandemic, I am more grateful than ever to see the number of our graduates continue to increase, and particularly our four-year degree graduates. In the 1960s, our community’s leaders understood establishing a college in Northwest Georgia was essential to drive a thriving economy. Our state’s leaders understood the importance of having quality affordable higher education available throughout the entire state.
Today, we are reaping the reward of that investment of land, facilities and funding to create Dalton State College. I hope 2021 will be a kinder, gentler year for us all and I hope every new year sees more and more successful Dalton State graduates contributing to our community.
Margaret Venable is president of Dalton State College.