COVINGTON -- After being known as a two-year institution for college students in metro Atlanta for nearly 50 years, Georgia Perimeter College soon will add four-year degrees at its campuses.
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia on Tuesday gave its approval for GPC and three other Georgia two-year colleges to offer bachelor's degrees. The other colleges are Darton College in Albany, Georgia Highlands College in Rome and Atlanta Metropolitan College.
GPC officials said Tuesday that the changes fit with the college's expanded mission.
"While the college's name will not change at this time, its mission has been expanded to those of similar state colleges in Georgia," GPC President Anthony Tricoli said in a press release. "Our reputation as an outstanding, comprehensive two-year institution in the Southeast and our rigorous general education curriculum were key in gaining approval to move our work to a higher level."
Once the accrediting agencies give the go-ahead after an undisclosed time period, GPC will begin to offer a bachelor of arts in sign language interpreting and a bachelor of science in health informatics.
"While our mission has now been expanded to include bachelor's degrees, we shall remain the state's largest access institution, providing an open door to educational opportunity for students who can benefit from a GPC experience," Tricoli said. "Now students can complete both the associate and bachelor's without leaving their local campus."
Beverly James, assistant director of media relations at GPC, said students from Newton and Rockdale counties will benefit from these changes, like GPC's other campuses.
"Most courses are online for the first two years and then face to face at all campuses," she said. "The last two years of HI courses will be offered at Newton and other campuses, determined by a new program director and resources."
Already at the Newton Campus, Georgia Perimeter College partners with Georgia State University to allow students to earn credits for their bachelor of science degrees in early childhood education. The college also partners with several other post-secondary institutions to allow GPC students to apply and be granted admission to a four-year school after completion of courses at GPC through the Transfer Admission Guarantee program.
GPC's sign language interpreting program, already the largest in the state, has been around for more than 30 years. The new degree offering will give students more time to further enhance their skills, said Damita Boyd, coordinator of the sign language program.
"We have known for a while that what we have been asking students to do in two to three years has been nothing short of monumental," Boyd said. "They are learning a new language, developing fluency in it, learning to navigate new cultural norms, learning the business and practice of interpreting and simultaneously having to develop a broad base of knowledge so that virtually any information they receive can be processed in two languages."
According to Boyd, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, which certifies interpreters at the national level, has recognized the need for interpreters to be educated at the baccalaureate level. As of July 2012, candidates for certification will be required hold a bachelor's degree or higher.
Health informatics is the use of computer technologies in health care to store, share, transmit and analyze clinical knowledge and data.
"GPC is well equipped to offer a bachelor's degree in health informatics," said Diane White, dean of health sciences. "We have excellent faculty in health science, business and computer science that have expertise in this area and are qualified to teach at the baccalaureate level."
According to White, there is a growing need in the work force industry for baccalaureate prepared health informatics specialists, as more health industries are looking at sustainability and managing large amounts of confidential data.
"It has been recently reported that the United States will need 130,000 to 200,000 baccalaureate health informatics specialists within the next five to 10 years," she said.
The University System of Georgia closely works with the Department of Labor in educating students for high-demand industries, and health informatics is definitely one of those industries, she added.
Tricoli said the college will see how it goes with the first two four-year degree programs before deciding to add others in the future.
"Our faculty members have already suggested several ideas," he said. "I look forward to working with our faculty and administrators to package our proposals in a way that the BOR will receive them favorably. Our students are the benefactors of the great collaboration that exists between the faculty, staff and administrators at GPC."
Georgia Perimeter College, which is the third largest institution of the University System of Georgia, serves more than 25,000 students at four campuses and several sites in metro Atlanta.
More information is available at www.gpc.edu.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.