The economics of Bainbridge State College is as grand as the $81 million economic impact the College contributes to the Southwest Georgia region, and as individual as each student.
For example, Daryl Hall said his personal economics of Bainbridge State College is that he received a good education during his first two years of college and saved a bundle in the process.
“When I left Bainbridge State, I had zero student loans because I continued to live at home and HOPE scholarships paid for my classes and books,” said Hall, a licensed physical therapist at Memorial Hospital and Manor in Bainbridge.
“It’s a good place to start for most students. It’s not the same experience as a four-year school with the community and living on campus, but I think the good foundation and high GPA allowed me to continue through the rest of my degree with a high enough GPA to be competitive getting into graduate school,” Hall said. He cited the small class sizes as a contributing factor to his high grade point average.
A Bainbridge High School graduate, Hall attended Bainbridge State from 2003-05 and then he transferred to Valdosta State University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 2008. He earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy from the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta in 2012.
“For me, giving up the first two years of ‘the college life’ was worth it for a lifelong occupation and job security, which I may not have gotten if my GPA was lower from starting at a larger school with huge classes,” Hall said.
An important economic boost was that Hall returned to his hometown, and returned with strong credentials and a bright future. Hall’s story is one community leaders were hoping for and have been fighting for prior to when the College opened its doors in 1973.
Overcoming some of the early skeptics was a huge fight. Just to get the bonds passed to open the College in Decatur County was a huge battle.
In the end, Bainbridge State has been dearly embraced, at a level College President Richard Carvajal said he has never seen before, and was a pleasant discovery when he arrived in 2011.
What Dr. Carvajal discovered while talking with the College’s founders, members of the community who supported the College from the very beginning, and some original alumni, were they loved the College and are vested in it.
“The community members who had played a role in its founding were uniquely passionate about this place. People got teary-eyed telling me about their role in making this place happen,” Dr. Carvajal said. “You don’t find that everywhere. So it told me very quickly that I was going to play a role in something that was cherished by people … that I was taking the reins of something pretty precious.”
A needed boost
The College was a much-needed shot in the arm 40 years ago because the community was still feeling the economic pinch of when the Bainbridge Air Base closed several years prior.
In fact, the 2nd Congressional District, which is where the College’s service area is, continues to hover as the ninth or eighth poorest congressional district in the country.
If Bainbridge State were not here, trying to bring businesses and raise the economic level of the area would be almost impossible, said Bainbridge and Decatur County Development Authority Executive Director Rick McCaskill.
When companies look at the education statistics for this corner of the state, they begin to question if it is worth bringing their businesses here and if the workforce is trainable. Then the College and its capabilities come into focus, McCaskill said.
McCaskill said the College is the biggest part of the equation that gets businesses and industries to take this area seriously.
“We always ride them by the College and let them see what a great facility it is, and how nice it looks, then they start believing,” McCaskill said. “Then when you tell them it not only is a College that may soon offer four-year degrees, but it also is a vocational college where they can train potential employees; the picture begins to come into focus for them. It’s a huge part of how we are going to take where we are right now and move on up the ladder.”
Bainbridge State is unique because it is the only one like it in Georgia – it potentially can offer a student the opportunities to get a GED, an applied associate’s degree, an associate’s degree to transfer to a university; and, scheduled to begin next year, a four-year degree – a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.
The biggest change in the College’s 40-year history occurred in February when the Board of Regents redefined Bainbridge State College, changing its name as well from Bainbridge College to Bainbridge State College to reflect the move toward becoming an institution that offers four-year degrees.
However, the crux of the matter is that Southwest Georgia still has a community college in essence – a college that serves the needs of its community — all 11 counties. It still contributes to this area’s economic prowess; but most importantly, it can clear pathways for its residents to a better life closer to home.
“We are still the institution that our region’s industries look to when they seek a skilled workforce. We are unique because we are the institution that can provide them a labor workforce, but also provide them a leadership workforce,” Dr. Carvajal said. “So, do you define what a community college is by what we offer? Or, do you define what a community college is by how we meet the needs of the region we serve? That has not changed one iota. We will always be this community’s college.”