Georgia’s job market is constantly evolving, and for ambitious students who can’t invest four years of their life or tens of thousands of dollars in a traditional university, it’s never looked better. Throughout the state, healthcare, industrial, and tech fields are booming. The film industry is hotter than this season’s biggest blockbuster. And blue-collar baby boomers are retiring at a record pace, leaving high-paying jobs in their wake for the next generation. As president of Southern Crescent Technical College (SCTC), Dr. Alvetta Thomas is dedicated to removing barriers to education, allowing the driven and the inspired to take advantage of these incredible opportunities and build the satisfying, high-paying careers they always dreamed of.
“Everywhere I go, I sing it from the rooftops – two-year technical colleges like SCTC offer the programs and teach high levels of critical thinking that result in a strong wage and a very, very good living for graduates,” she remarked. “It’s important to share with people those opportunities they wouldn’t normally think about.”
GIVING EVERY STUDENT THE CHANCE TO ACHIEVE THE INCREDIBLE
Since SCTC formed in 2010 as a merger between Flint River Technical College and Griffin Technical College, it’s set a solid foundation for Georgia’s workforce. The college offers 100 different industry-guided programs, from accounting to welding, with diploma, certificate, and degree programs available. Today, 98 percent of SCTC graduates go right to work, with 83 percent finding positions in their field of study.
While the stats are impressive, Dr. Thomas knew there was more she could do. Since taking the helm of SCTC in 2016 following a successful 19-year career at Atlanta Technical College, her mission has been clear – put the student first, and everything else will follow. After spending more than 30 years in continuing and higher education roles across the U.S., Dr. Thomas saw first-hand the struggles many students faced in reaching their educational goals, including financial constraints and family commitments. Talented, ambitious students were missing out on their chance at a well paying career because of circumstances beyond their control.
Said Dr. Thomas, “I believe that all students deserve the opportunity to realize their dreams, and I believe all students can learn with the right level of support.” At SCTC, she ensures that opportunity starts with staff steering eligible students through the financial aid process to help ease the stress of paying for college. One exciting option for students is Governor Nathan Deal’s HOPE Career Grant, which covers tuition costs for 17 different high-demand programs, including film technology, truck driving, computer information systems, early childhood education, and practical nursing. In addition, Dr. Thomas and her team have implemented new enrollment options to assist students in the event life sets up a roadblock on their path toward graduation.
“We’ve created a building-block approach to education. SCTC offers strategic exits so that if a student has to leave, they have the credentials that allow them to go to work in their industry of choice and make a living wage. When their situation changes, they can come back to get their diploma or complete their degree in their program area. Our goal is to keep students engaged and help them toward gainful employment, no matter where they are in their education.”
Dr. Thomas asks that faculty partner with the Student Navigator to assist students who are at risk of failing so that SCTC can provide them with additional support. Through this program, students can take advantage of the tutoring and mentoring center, find resources through the career and academic planning center, and even receive referrals to service agencies that can help take some of the worries off their very crowded shoulders.
This focus on inclusion has paid off big for SCTC students. Graduation rates in 2017 increased 26.5 percent from the year before, compared to a 0.3 percent increase among all technical colleges in Georgia. Dr. Thomas is also helping prepare the next generation of students by growing SCTC’s dual enrollment program, which allows high school students to earn college credits and find apprenticeship opportunities. By partnering with eight local schools, SCTC is offering students the chance to get a jump start on their college career.
Under her watch, adult education programs have increased to ensure vulnerable citizens across the Southern Crescent earn their high school diploma or GED, and a new effort is being made to reverse the continuing decline of male enrollment seen at SCTC and colleges nationwide. Soon, a new state-of-the-art center will open at the Henry County Center to support new and expanding programs.
KEEPING THE SOUTHERN CRESCENT STRONG TODAY AND IN THE FUTURE
Just as important to Dr. Thomas as getting students ready for the job market is to work closely with business and industry in all eight counties SCTC serves to strengthen the regional economy.
“We’re constantly communicating with businesses to understand both their current and anticipated needs so that we can develop the programs and economic development opportunities to support them,” she explained. “For instance, if there’s a new technology or technique they’re trying to implement, we can contract with them to train their employees or add a unique competency to our programming so students are ready to go to work for them.”
Each SCTC program has an advisory committee, made up of business professionals, that reviews the curriculum, facility, and training equipment to ensure all are current. Furthermore, Dr. Thomas, as well as a team of SCTC representatives, all have strong relationships with development authorities across the region and are active in local Chambers of Commerce.
Being a lifelong learner herself, Dr. Thomas is constantly keeping an eye on and checking the pulse of various industries. “I recently went to the doctor’s office to get some testing done, and I asked the radiology technician what kind of training she had, what specializations she had, and yes, if those specializations made more her more money. When I came back to campus, I took a hard look at our program. Why don’t we have this particular specialization? What can we do to be sure our students have the best training available?”
It’s this 20-year legacy of connecting students and businesses in Atlanta that makes Dr. Thomas not only an inspiration to each and every one of SCTC’s students, but also their biggest cheerleader. She knows the opportunity for greatness is waiting for them at the end of the road and is there for them at every step, rooting them through every challenge and celebrating with them when they cross the stage and head toward their dream career.
“It all comes down to our students. When we better serve them, they better serve our community, creating an economically vibrant community here in the Southern Crescent and in the state of Georgia as a whole.”