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Higher learning back on track in Gwinnett

Ten days from now, we should know who will be at the helm of Gwinnett's new four-year college.

The Board of Regents, which oversees public higher learning in Georgia, expects to pare a list of three finalists to one. The announcement is expected Sept. 7.

The college, which will occupy the campus known as Gwinnett University Center, becomes the 35th school in Georgia's University System and the first new entity since the early 1970s. The school, which will begin enrolling in the fall of next year, has yet to be named.

The birth of the Gwinnett University Center at Ga. Highway 316 and Collins Hill Road is a success story in itself. Recognizing a dire need for an educational outlet in Gwinnett, a group of local leaders pushed for facilities that could accommodate a burgeoning population of knowledge-hungry kids who didn't want to "go away" to college.

The dream began in July 1994 when the county purchased 177 acres. It didn't take long for the dream to materialize. Today, the campus boasts two state-of-the-art buildings, the latest education technology, top-notch faculty, the opportunity to earn a four-year degree within Gwinnett's borders and an enrollment of more than 8,000 students taking courses from four schools - the University of Georgia, Gwinnett Perimeter College, Southern Polytechnic State University and Medical College of Georgia.

The latter part of this growth has taken place in a period of uncertainty. When the campus' first president headed to the Northeast, the facility's future was unclear. The regents seemed unsure of how GUC fit into Georgia's educational landscape.

But now, the period of uncertainty is over. With its new charter and a soon-to-be-announced leader, the campus is back on track.

Starting with 55 candidates, the regents search committee has narrowed the field to three:

n George DePuy, chief academic officer at the University of California Berkeley Extension.

n Daniel Kaufman, dean of the academic board and chief academic officer for the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

n Peter Sireno, president of Darton College in Albany.

All have stellar credentials and appear capable of getting the campus back on the fast track. The new state college won't begin accepting students until fall 2006. The four institutions with operations on campus now will be phased out over the next four years.

It's been a journey with several unexpected turns. The destination, however, couldn't be more welcome - a four-year state college in the heart of Gwinnett.

We doubt anyone believed the dream would come true so quickly.