LAWRENCEVILLE - Three years ago, 118 students took a chance on a brand-new state college.
Georgia Gwinnett College had little to attract students - just the backing of the University System of Georgia, a convenient location and the promise that these pioneers would play a part in shaping the future of the first four-year public college founded in the United States in the 21st century.
Two months shy of its third birthday, the college on Collins Hill Road was granted its initial accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Georgia Gwinnett College went through the accreditation process in record time, SACS Commission on Colleges President Belle Wheelan said Thursday.
Rico Torres, a charter student who was in the first graduating class last year, said he thinks there was a little doubt initially among the students about the caliber of the college.
"But the faculty and staff put us at ease," he said, adding, "This (the accreditation) really provides that level of credibility."
Torres said he's proud of his alma mater and all that has been accomplished since the school officially opened Aug. 18, 2006.
"This only speaks to what's going to happen in the future," he said.
That's a sentiment shared by GGC President Daniel Kaufman.
"For us as an institution, it means we can grow," Kaufman said. "Now we can be the truly comprehensive institution that our community deserves."
Accreditation, which often takes four to six years to achieve, is intended to assure constituents and the public of the quality and integrity of higher education institutions and programs. The process includes three steps: application, candidacy and accreditation. Georgia Gwinnett College submitted its application for candidacy in October 2007, earning the status last June.
Work on the request for accreditation began immediately thereafter, and thousands of pages of documentation and records were provided to SACS to certify compliance with the comprehensive standards that must be satisfied in order for an institution to be accredited, according to a news release. Following a review of the submission, SACS sent a 10-member team to the Lawrenceville campus for an on-site visit in April to verify the accuracy of the submitted materials, assess the facilities, and interview faculty, staff and students.
"In just a few years, we have provided students access to an excellent college education because of dedicated and inspiring professors who are devoted to teaching and student development," Kaufman said. "Accreditation is a major accomplishment for the GGC team, and I commend all the faculty and staff who worked tirelessly to achieve this milestone in our short history as a college."
Richard Tucker, a member of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, said the fact that Georgia Gwinnett College achieved accreditation in such a short time is a significant accomplishment and a tribute to the work of the administration, faculty and staff.
"We certainly anticipated from Day 1 that (the college) would be accredited," Tucker said, "but to do it in less than two years from the time we applied is unheard of."
Earlier this month, the Board of Regents approved a significant expansion of academic programs for Georgia Gwinnett College, and majors in English, history and mathematics will be added to the college's current offerings in biology, business administration, psychology and information technology, pending approval by SACS, according to a news release.
The college has also requested the addition of majors in exercise science, political science, criminal justice/criminology, early childhood education and special education, the news release states. Additionally, the college plans to add a major in nursing within the next 18 months to accommodate the 10,000 students expected to enroll in the next five years. Eligible high school students can now participate in joint and dual enrollment programs at GGC as well, thereby getting an early start on their college degrees.
"In the fall we anticipate 3,000 students walking the halls of GGC, engaging our faculty in our labs and classrooms and witnessing unparalleled construction activities including new housing, a state-of-the-art library and a student center, all slated to open next year ... (on) the most technologically modern campus in the state," said Stas Preczewski, vice president of academic and student affairs.
"Gwinnett County residents and community leaders should be justifiably proud of Georgia Gwinnett College and what it represents as an open-admissions access college of excellence in service to the northeast Georgia community," Preczewski added. "We look forward to educating, in the years ahead, thousands of high school graduates, transfer students and adults who seek their bachelor's degree at a public college that delivers a private school feeling."