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Ga. Piedmont president reports school is fastest-growing in state

Georgia Piedmont Technical College President Jabari Simama spoke to the Rotary Club of Conyers on Thursday. He discussed how important obtaining some college education is for students to compete in the job market. Staff Photos: Michelle Floyd

Georgia Piedmont Technical College President Jabari Simama spoke to the Rotary Club of Conyers on Thursday. He discussed how important obtaining some college education is for students to compete in the job market. Staff Photos: Michelle Floyd

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Rockdale Clerk of Courts Ruth Wilson, a Rotarian, spoke with Simama after the club meeting.

CONYERS -- Georgia Piedmont Technical College is growing -- officials just don't know why yet.

Dr. Jabari Simama, president of GPTC, reported Thursday at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Conyers, that the school is the fastest growing college in the Technical College System of Georgia.

Last year, the TCSG as a whole grew by .6 percent, while GPTC grew 17 percent.

"We are proud of the fact that we are growing. We celebrate it," Simama said.

He said college officials are looking at the reasons for the growth and developing an outreach strategy.

"There's a renaissance underway at our college now. There's a lot of energy and excitement," he said.

The college recently underwent a name change, from DeKalb Technical College, and some administration changes after the retirement of former college President Robin Hoffman in 2011. Simama began his tenure in September 2012.

Simama said that GPTC is the largest provider of adult education in Georgia by helping adults get their GEDs, certificates or college diplomas. He said that the average age student is 32 years old.

"We do educate nontraditional and more mature students," Simama said. "There's nothing wrong with being out of school for 10 to 15 years ... and coming back in. We provide a lot of learning support."

Still, he said there are a lot more adults who need to earn their GEDs or some kind of post-secondary education -- there are 1.3 million people in Georgia without high school diplomas.

"We have a lot of work to do," he said. "It's imperative in this market that we help more and more adults get a high school diploma and GED. If they don't have a foundation, they're going to be marginalized in this economy."

He added that sometimes even a high school diploma or GED isn't enough -- it's better to have even just some college. He said that the median earnings a worker without a high school diploma will make is about $24,000 annually, which is almost poverty level for a family of four; the median for a person with an associate's degree is about $41,000 annually.

Simama said that people also need to be computer literate and highly skilled and trained in the field they hope to enter. He added that he wants to partner better with grade schools to talk to students as early as fifth grade about college and careers and the skills they need.

The college serves more than 21,500 students in degree programs, continuing education classes and adult education courses on campuses in DeKalb and Newton counties, as well as in educational centers around metro Atlanta, including offices at the Newton College & Career Academy and the Rockdale Career Academy.

It offers 137 career pathways and programs. The most popular include practical nursing, basic law enforcement and criminal justice and information technology.