Representatives from the University of Georgia-Tifton and Bainbridge State College on Thursday, June 27, signed three memorandums of understanding that will seismically impact southwest Georgia’s educational needs and its No. 1 industry — agriculture.

The memorandums of understanding (MOUs) will allow students who graduate from Bainbridge State with an associate of arts degree in an agricultural concentration, with a grade point average of at least 2.8, to gain automatic acceptance into the University of Georgia – Tifton Campus to earn a bachelor of science in agriculture.

Agriculture in the 11 counties that Bainbridge State College serves has a farm gate value of more than $1.2 billion, which is 9.4 percent of the state’s total value. Agriculture’s economic impact is huge when the $1.2 billion commodity value is coupled with associated businesses and industries, such as peanut processing plants or fertilizer and seed companies. The economic multiplier is believed to be seven times, so the economic impact from agriculture in those 11 counties easily could approach $14 billion.

Despite knowing that agriculture plays a big role in the region’s economy, Bainbridge State officials admitted that they had historically done very little to educate future leaders for careers in agriculture.

“We have never offered an agricultural course in the 40-year history of the college,” said Bainbridge State College President Richard Carvajal. “We knew that didn’t make sense given the fact that our mission is to serve our region, a region that is dominated economically by agriculture, so we are very excited about this addition.”

The memorandums of understanding between Bainbridge State and the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences allow the two institutions to train the next generation of leaders in the industry that impacts this region the most.

Andy Bell, president of the Decatur County Farm Bureau, said the MOUs are the first big step in what the local agricultural community hopes will be an expanding offering of agricultural education.

Bell, who farms peanuts, cotton, corn and cattle on 2,000 acres, said he is glad to see this happening.

“It’s been a need, and we feel like it’s been a real need for a long time,” Bell said. “We have wanted to get some agricultural classes and programs at the college. We are happy it’s finally happening.”

The need clearly has been demonstrated.

A 2008 study of the agribusiness workforce needs in Georgia reported that there is an ongoing shortage of college graduates available to fill the number of job openings in the agribusiness industry.

Dr. Scott Angle, dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, said not only is agriculture the state’s largest business, it continues to be the fastest growing industry in the state. He said world food production must double by the year 2050 to feed the world’s growing population.

“Georgia is ideally suited to become the bread basket, not just for the United States, but for our world,” Dr. Angle said. “We feel like today, in essence, we are in the middle of that journey to making this the bread basket of the world.”

Dr. Joe West, assistant dean for the University of Georgia-Tifton Campus, said the signing of the articulation agreement starts the partnership between the University of Georgia and Bainbridge State College in support of Georgia’s No. 1 industry, agriculture.

“Students from Bainbridge State College will begin their collegiate career there, transfer to the University of Georgia’s Tifton Campus as juniors, and will receive their Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES). This is an exciting partnership between Bainbridge State College and the University of Georgia CAES in serving the agricultural industries in Southwest Georgia.”

Tommy Dollar, chief executive officer of Dollar Farm Products and president of Decatur Gin Company in Bainbridge, said he is happy to see the opportunity the institutions are presenting to the young people of southwest Georgia. He said he understands the frustration some students may have had in not having adequate access to agricultural education.

“Years ago when I was a student at then Bainbridge Junior College, and then went on to another college, I took five semesters of classes and still didn’t take a class in agriculture,” Dollar said. “I wanted to learn about agriculture.”

Dollar said he eventually quit college and went to work in the family business.

At one time, Bainbridge State offered an associate of arts degree with a concentration in agriculture, but it was actually a general studies degree. In fact, the college has never offered any classes in agriculture.

“I can see the benefit of having young people be given the opportunity to earn a degree close to home and to actually earn a degree in something they want, such as agriculture,” Dollar said.

The memorandums of understanding between Bainbridge State and the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences allow the two institutions to train the next generation of leaders in the industry that impacts this region the most.

Students who want a UGA degree in agriculture will be able to complete their first two years of college much closer to home. Also, students in and near Bainbridge will benefit from the most affordable bachelor’s degree in agriculture in all of Georgia.

Georgia’s flagship institution is giving potential students a “pathway” to follow through Bainbridge State that will increase their chance of successful transfer to UGA’s Tifton Campus, followed by successful degree completion.

Students wishing to follow this path may begin their coursework this fall. UGA academic advisers trained Bainbridge State faculty and academic counselors Thursday.

“The agreement is huge,” said Dr. Carvajal. “It ensures that students from our region who want to work in such an important field have the opportunity to complete the training they need.”

Along with the MOUs with the University of Georgia, Bainbridge State is working to meet the other needs of the agricultural community.

The college is in the process of adding a continuing education series for farm employees, and adding one-year certificates and two-year associate programs in agribusiness. In addition, when Bainbridge State begins its baccalaureate program in management in 2014, it will ultimately have a concentration in agribusiness.


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