In 1964, Brunswick College opened its doors for business. In 1966, Kennesaw Junior College in Cobb County did the same. Brunswick College, which changed its name to Brunswick Junior College the next year, had an initial enrollment of 266. Kennesaw had just over 1,400 students.
In 1976, Kennesaw Junior College became a four-year college, known as Kennesaw College and later as Kennesaw State College and in 1996, Kennesaw State University. Today, KSU is the state’s third largest university with an enrollment of 32,500 students, ranking just behind the University of Georgia and Georgia State University.
While Kennesaw State was growing exponentially, little Brunswick Junior College chugged along until it morphed into a four-year college in 2008. Last week, College of Coastal Georgia as it is known today welcomed some 3,100 students to campus, an enrollment one-tenth that of Kennesaw State, its younger cousin.
End of story? Not by a long shot. In my not-so-humble opinion, the College of Coastal Georgia, like Kennesaw State, has all the tools to become a major player in our state’s system of higher education. If Kennesaw State could do it, why can’t CCGA? You will get no argument from Dr. Greg Aloia.
Dr. Aloia is beginning his third year at the helm of the College of Coastal Georgia, (“I’m entering my junior year,” he quips) and waxes enthusiastic about the college today and what he sees ahead. He is quick to point out that he has been the beneficiary of the foundation laid by Brunswick attorney, Jim Bishop, who as a member of the State Board of Regents was instrumental in the transition of the college to a four-year institution and to Dr. Valerie Hepburn who shot the lights out in her five years as president of CCGA.
In talking to Dr. Aloia about the upcoming year and what he envisions for the future, he reminded me of a conversation we had over lunch upon his arrival from Concord University in West Virginia in 2013. “You told me that God really liked Georgia and that is why He created the Golden Isles,” he recalls. “Now, I know what you meant.” That’s me, the unbiased theologian.
Of the approximately 3,100 students enrolled at CCGA for the Fall Semester, some 600 are freshman and many are the first in their family to attend college. “We have a moral and fiscal obligation to help them fulfill their dream of a college education,” Aloia says.
Another high-priority for the president are military veterans. “We have done a lot of things to make it easier for our veterans to become a part of our campus,” he says. The college has a dedicated staff member to help veterans with enrollment, applying for benefits and scholarship opportunities.
Dr. Aloia says that the College of Coastal Georgia is becoming the college of choice for a lot of students. “Our students today come from all over Georgia as well as from out of state and from 23 countries.” And why not? What other institution of higher learning can offer the ambiance of the Golden Isles?
Another reason may be a faculty that relates closely to those it teaches. Dr. Aloia proudly notes that when students were asked to nominate the Faculty Member of the Year, 73 different faculty members were nominated; this from a faculty of 81 fulltime and 89 part-time members. “That is remarkable,” Aloia says, “and says a lot about how our faculty is challenging our students and how students are responding to the challenge.”
This past year, 100 percent of the graduates in Teacher Education received certification as did 100 percent of graduates in the Nursing program and in the Radiological Science program. That speaks volumes to challenges issued and challenges met.
The College of Coastal Georgia is becoming more involved in the community as well. “I believe that community engagement is an extension of a student’s learning,” Dr. Aloia says, “whether it is teaching art, working as public school volunteers, with Boys and Girls Clubs or at homeless shelters. Coming to school here will change who you are in a positive way.”
As for the future, Dr. Aloia says, “My goal five years out is to see our kids being accepted at the best medical schools and top engineering schools in the country and that is beginning to happen already. I want a dynamic veterans program. I want us to strengthen our international initiative and get more students from more countries attending school here. I want to attract the best faculty possible.” His list goes on and on.
Can it be done? “When I was a student at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, I decided we needed a football team. The president told me it was not possible and he would have to see the Pope’s signature approving it before it would happen,” Dr. Aloia recalls. “Four years later, we won the national championship. I’m still looking for the Pope’s signature.”
In other words, don’t bet against the man and don’t bet against his vision for the College of Coastal Georgia. The place has a future as bright as a St. Simons sunrise. I think even the Pope would agree with that.