"We're just a different type of educational facility," says Savannah Technical College president Kathy S. Love. "Not everyone is interested in getting a liberal arts degree, or sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture."
Enrollment at Savannah Tech was up nearly 14 percent over the summerterm, Love explains, and it's steadily climbing.
There's a good reason.
"At all times when the economy is bad, and people may be losing their jobs, re-training is one of the first things that comes to their mind: ‘My job is not coming back, so I need to re-train.' As a system of technical colleges throughout Georgia, we see an increase continuously when the economy is bad."
Love, who's been in the big chair since January, believes Savannah Tech - which has recently beefed up numerous programs, including culinary arts, cosmetology and allied medical training - is generating fresh enthusiasm in the area
"I do think there's some additional excitement at Savannah Tech in that whenever you've got new programs, new administration, new instructors in some cases, people are curious," she says. "They come by and see that their preconceived notion of what a technical college was, is not the true picture."
Trade and "Vo-Tech" schools, she explains, were traditionally thought of as "something less" than real colleges, "the place that's good enough for your neighbor to send their kid, but you'd never send your own. Nor would you go yourself. They probably picture outdated equipment, and instructors that aren't caring about staying on the cutting edge of the technologies in the fields.
"Then they come here and they see that our instructional staff has a great relationship with industry. Our equipment is state of the art. The facilities are beautiful. The students that are here are excited and happy and going to work when they graduate. So they decide it's something they want to become a part of."
Love, previously the president of Flint River Technical College, was the vice president of instructional and student services at Middle Georgia Technical College from 1994 to 2001, and vice president of administrative services at South Georgia Technical College from 1990 to 1994.
"It's only been within the last six or seven years that we have been technical colleges," she says. "And I think what a lot of people don't realize is that we're accredited by SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), as are Armstrong Atlantic, Savannah State, the University of Georgia we all have the same accrediting body. We have the same expectations as far as quality goes within our classrooms."
Savannah Tech has classes in health sciences, business and technology, industrial and public service fields, economic development and general college studies.
"Our students learn differently - they enjoy getting their hands on equipment, on the vehicle, or whatever it is they're interested in. In our allied health programs, the patient, for example.
"They succeed here where they may not be interested in succeeding somewhere else."
Savannah Tech serves 4,000 students each quarter in Bryan, Chatham, Effingham and Liberty Counties, offering more than 50 certificate, diploma and associate degree programs in fields ranging from automotive technology to surgical technology, and from marketing to computer information systems and beyond.
On Sept. 17, the school will hold free Bryan County workshops about Georgia's Be Work Ready, a program for the unemployed. At these "information sessions," participants will learn how to earn the free Work Ready certificate - certifying your skills for potential employers - and how to earn up to $100 in incentives to offset job search expenses.
It's scheduled for 1 and 6 p.m. at 133 West DuBois St. in Pembroke, and will be repeated at 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Richmond Hill Library, 9607 Ford Ave. in Richmond Hill.
"As we graduate more students," Love explains, "and they go to work and they become success stories in the community, more people are aware of the fact that about 80 percent of the jobs out there require technical training. And don't necessarily require a four-year degree."
She's instigated several important changes since her arrival nine months ago.
"We had very few night programs. Well, we have as many under-employed individuals in our service area as we have unemployed.
"Now, when you're unemployed it may be fairly easy to come to college during the day. But when you're under-employed, you can't necessarily afford to quit the job that you have, even if it's minimum wage, to come to school during the day.
"So my challenge to my faculty: Every program we have on campus that's offered during the day, unless there's some really legitimate reason, will be offered at night."
The health care program remains the school's most popular - "people want to help others, and they know those jobs pay well," Love says - and there's been a dramatic increase in students interested in the culinary arts.
And getting through the admissions process, she adds, is also a lot less headache-inducing than in years previous. It is, to paraphrase Governor Sonny Perdue, "faster, friendlier and easier."
Love is thrilled to put the process on the fast track. "We want to make sure that when an applicant comes here, or even just an interested party, that they don't have to come back five times before they are admitted to the college," she says.
"So we're really looking closer at our processes, to make sure they are not putting a roadblock up for the students that want to come to college."