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Clemons: Colleges make big impact on county
David Clemons

Bruce Howard attended Oxford College of Emory University in the 1980s.

Like many of us at a reception at the college this week, he was particularly struck by a map showing the construction on campus in recent years. Howard, a member of the Oxford College Board of Counselors, and I spoke after Dean Douglas A. Hicks’ presentation to members of the community about the economic and civic impact of the school.

Here’s a rundown of the numbers:

  • Oxford College makes an annual economic impact of $262 million on the state, with a $79 million impact right here in Newton County.
  • The college has made or plans $114 million in direct capital investments between 2013 and 2020.
  • The school generates about $5.5 million in annual Georgia tax revenues.
  • Oxford College supports about 1,500 jobs across the state, including 520 here in Newton County.
  • And, students, faculty and staff generate about 13,000 service hours in annual community engagement.

“We’re a pretty big economic engine in this community,” Hicks said in the understatement of the week.

I found all of this to be fascinating, and community leaders I’ve spoken with at and since the event Wednesday seemed to agree. Oxford College is a beautiful place, to be sure, but until Hicks’ presentation I was totally unaware of just how important it is to Newton County and the state.

Some history, in case you’re unaware: Oxford College is a two-year school with a liberal arts focus that’s part of the prestigious Emory University.

The Methodist Church — yay, Methodists! — broke ground in Oxford in 1838 on a new liberal arts college it had received a charter for just two years earlier. (The school is named in honor of Methodist Bishop John Emory.)

A new university came along decades later, meaning a move to Atlanta. But that didn’t mean abandoning this home in Oxford. Former Emory President Bishop Warren Akin Chandler and his brother, Coca-Cola Co. founder Asa Griggs Chandler, made sure Emory College remained a vital part of what was being created.

Emory College relocated to Atlanta in 1919, but what is now Oxford College remained on the historic Newton County campus.

Oxford has students from 45 states and 25 nations making up its enrollment of just under 1,000 people.

“We’re drawing the best and brightest here,” Hicks said.

Surprisingly to me, 19 percent of students at Oxford College come from outside the U.S. The majority are from outside the South.

Hicks said on the recent parents’ weekend, he found most of the visitors had to fly into the area because the students they were visiting lived so far away from home.

“I said, this is why we want to build our partnership with Delta Air Lines,” he said to a laugh.

All those visitors are seeing a campus that’s gotten a radical transformation over the past two decades. A map in Hicks’ presentation revealed numerous buildings that have been constructed or renovated since the mid-1990s. That’s what caught Howard’s eye, he told me, as he described how much the college has grown since his time as a student.

Oxford College is but one piece of what’s making Newton County an education powerhouse. Another is the new Advanced Manufacturing Center at the Alcovy Road campus of Georgia Piedmont Technical College.

It’s the fulfillment of a $1 million promise.

“The commissioner (Gretchen Corbin, of the Technical College System of Georgia) and I came out over a year ago and we promised the business community that we were going to transform manufacturing capabilities here,” GPTC President Jabari Simama said.

“This million-dollar commitment represents a promise kept.”

College officials said the Advanced Manufacturing Center is the next step in a mandate for next-level workforce training, after the successful German Apprenticeship Program.

“We have continued to adapt our educational and training courses as dictated by advances in technology,” Simama said in a statement.

“Our graduates secure employment at a level resulting in a 99.5 percent total job placement rate,” he said.

It’s hard to argue with those kinds of numbers.

And the newest member of the county’s higher-education community, the Newton campus of Georgia State University Perimeter College, celebrated its 10th anniversary on Wednesday.

More than 18,000 students have taken at least one class at the campus just south of Social Circle in the past decade, a college official told our Darryl Welch.

Currently GSU Perimeter serves 1,496 at the Newton campus.

The three schools are making a huge impact on our community, and we are so much better for them.

David Clemons is the Editor and Publisher of The Covington News. His email address is Twitter: @scoopclemons.