Dalton State working to rebrand itself, draw more students

Dalton State working to rebrand itself, draw more students

November 4th, 2012 by Rachel Bunn in Local Regional News

Geoffrey Edwards, a sophomore at Dalton State College, reads a book while waiting for his next class to begin.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Dalton State College is in the midst of rebranding itself.

Founded in 1963 as Dalton Junior College, it originally served as an access institution for the state's larger universities and colleges. But Dalton State isn't just an access institution, though it still serves that function.

With an academic plan that includes eventually offering master's degrees, and a physical plan to expand its spaces and add traditional dorms, the college is in the beginning stages of a transformation. Its long-dormant basketball team will return to campus in 2013.

But Dalton State College also has been through some rough patches. There's been a decline in enrollment over the last two years. Faculty has had to take furlough days. Three faculty positions were eliminated this spring, according to newspaper archives, and three open positions will remain unfilled to keep the college in the black.

"It's been difficult the last few years, but we're moving ahead," said Pam Partain, director of marketing and communications. "We're really establishing who we are right now. When things turn around, we'll be well poised."

The hope is that things like athletics, residence halls and more four-year degrees will draw more students and young people to the community and help bring Dalton out of its economic funk.

"The mission hasn't really changed, but the role in the community has," Dalton State President John Schwenn said.

Wider recruitment

In 2009, the college began casting a wider net for students, opening its first residences, an apartment complex that already stood between the other campus buildings, and a secondary center in Gilmer County, Ga. It is also breaking ground on a long-awaited academic building on Nov. 12.

Plans for more athletic and residential buildings, and a larger student center are also in the works.

"In three to four years, we'll probably look very different," Schwenn said.

Earlier this year, Dalton State hired its first intercollegiate athletic director, Derek Waugh, to begin its first athletic program since it became a four-year college. In August, the college also hired a basketball coach, Tony Ingle, reviving its Roadrunners basketball team that had a successful run in the 1970s.

"The support that we've received has been fantastic," Waugh said. "From a personal standpoint, the response has been off-the-chains good. It's really been beyond my wildest expectations."

Signs featuring the Roadrunners are going up around town. People in the community have donated money to help fund the new facilities and staff needed to get the program off the ground.

More coaches

Waugh also has hired tennis and cheerleading coaches, and he hopes to have golf, volleyball and cross-country coaches by the end of the year. Waugh referred to the new athletic programs as a "carrot," or an incentive that will attract students who previously had not considered Dalton State.

At Dalton High School, the college is one of the top destinations for graduates, according to data provided by counselor Tina Scibilia.

"It's not often the first choice, because some students do want to get away, but often they end up going there and loving it," Scibilia said. "Sometimes they go there with the idea that they'll transfer, and they end up staying all four years."

More than 40 percent of Dalton State's student population comes from its home county, Whitfield, but plans are to expand recruitment to the metro Atlanta area.

For the second year in a row, however, the college has had a drop in enrollment, Partain said.

This year's 8 percent decline is due in part to the continued economic troubles of the community, as well as new admissions standards, she said. For the first time, Dalton State required test scores for admission.

"That was painful," Partain said. "It meant we had to say no to some people we would have let in before."

Shifting degrees

The college has been moving toward a baccalaureate program since the early 2000s and axed many of its two-year programs last year. A 2011 academic master plan outlines the college's goals: redo course offerings by eliminating some programs, revising others and adding more.

Despite the additions, the college still expects to keep its tuition, which has been cited by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the lowest in the nation, affordable.

The Georgia Board of Regents is expected to increase tuition by 2 or 3 percent this year, and more fees, including an athletic fee, await approval by the Regents, said Scott Bailey, vice president for fiscal affairs.