On September 4, 2008, the State Board of Technical and Adult Education approved the merger of East Central Technical College (ECTC) and Valdosta Technical College (VTC), to be effective July 1, 2010. Almost a year to the day that the merger was announced the local board, with input from stakeholders, decided on a new name for the merged institution — Wiregrass Georgia Technical College.
Wiregrass Georgia Technical College has four campuses: Ben Hill-Irwin Campus, Coffee County Campus, Cook County Workforce Development Center, and the Valdosta Campus. Two extended campuses include the Wilcox Learning Center in Rochelle and a Moody Air Force Base location in Valdosta. The college provides adult education services in each of the eleven counties in the service area, which includes Atkinson, Ben Hill, Berrien, Brooks, Coffee, Cook, Echols, Irwin, Lanier, Lowndes, and Wilcox counties.
Individually, ECTC and VTC have long, meaningful histories. The following historical background information related to the two technical colleges illustrates the impact of the colleges on their respective communities and emphasizes the importance of training and educational opportunities to the citizens of the Georgia Wiregrass Region.
East Central Technical College
East Central Technical College (formerly Ben Hill-Irwin Technical Institute and East Central Technical Institute) was established in 1966. Ben Hill-Irwin Technical Institute, occupying three buildings with large vocational-technical labs and a small administration area, officially opened its doors to the first full-time student body of approximately 200 on September 21, 1970. The first full-time graduates received their diplomas on September 15, 1971.
During the next 30 years, East Central Technical College underwent enormous transformation and growth. On June 10, 1977, Ben Hill-Irwin Tech held groundbreaking ceremonies for a new $600,000 expansion to house new programs. The Charles Harris Learning Center, which consists of an auditorium, classrooms, and office space, opened in 1994. A short time later in 1995, the Board of Regents deeded land, originally part of South Georgia College, to the Department of Technical and Adult Education (DTAE) for the Coffee County Campus.
On November 7, 1996, the name Ben Hill-Irwin Institute was officially changed to East Central Technical Institute. On January 3, 2001, with the initial offering of its first associate degree program, East Central Technical Institute became East Central Technical College. Further expansions throughout the service area included the addition of the Wilcox Lifelong Learning Center in Rochelle and approved funding for a new technology building on the Ben Hill-Irwin campus, which was completed in April 2006.
On February 1, 2006, Dr. Ray Perren became the fourth president of East Central Technical College and served until June 2008 when he left to serve as Assistant Commissioner of Technical Education for the Technical College System of Georgia. E.J. Harris, then Executive Vice President at Valdosta Technical College, served as interim president until his retirement in August 2009. Following Harris’s retirement, Lisa Tomberlin became the interim president, serving in this position until the completion of the merger. After the merger, she assumed and still holds the position of Provost of the Wiregrass Georgia Technical College.
Valdosta Technical College
Valdosta Technical Institute was founded as a cooperative agreement by the state legislature, the Valdosta Board of Education, and the Lowndes County Board of Education in 1963 to serve the citizens of Berrien, Brooks, Cook, Echols, Lanier, and Lowndes counties. With an initial enrollment of 37 students and utilizing one building on 10.5 acres of land, Valdosta Technical Institute opened for classes for the first time in September 1963.
The first addition to the campus was Building 200, a 7,200 square foot building to house the HVAC (heating ventilating and air conditioning) and welding programs. Enrollment increased, programs were added, and the Commission on Occupational Education accredited the school in 1975. Vigorous economic growth of the area, sustained by a workforce that included an increasing number of technically trained graduates of the institute, initiated a need for an additional expansion that almost doubled the size of the facility. In 1984, the college completed its second addition to house the horticulture, electronics, and allied health programs.
In 1988 governance of the vocational-technical institute transferred to the newly created Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education. The school named a nine-member local board of directors and changed the name of the school to Valdosta Technical Institute to serve a six-county service area in extreme south central Georgia. A donation enabled the expansion of the school including three new buildings opening in 1997. When the accrediting agency approved the institute to offer its first associate degree in 2000, the school changed names and became Valdosta Technical College. The Cook County Workforce Development Center at 1676 North Elm Street, Sparks, Georgia opened its doors as a branch campus of Valdosta Technical College in June 2002. Valdosta Tech opened an office at Moody Air Force Base in February 2004. In 2006 the college broke ground for a 90,000 square foot classroom facility. This facility expansion reflected the growth in numbers of students and programs offered by the college. In December 2007, Valdosta Technical College was accredited and approved for unconditional membership with the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Building 700, housing the administrative offices of the President, business programs, a new 7,000 square foot library, an auditorium, early childhood education, drafting technology, and printing and graphics programs, officially opened in February 2009.
A new student center was also constructed and includes 6,625 square feet of space for a student-oriented food service facility, security offices, and offices for student activities.
Dr. Ray Perren became the President of Valdosta Tech on July 1, 2009 following the retirement of interim president, Dr. F.D. Toth. Dr. Perren continued to serve as the President of Wiregrass Georgia Technical College.
Wiregrass Georgia Technical College
In December of 2010, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College was named the first ever Technical College of the Year by the state board that oversees the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG). The award was based on performance criteria such as enrollment numbers, graduation rate, student retention, job placement rate, cost efficiency, completions in adult education programs, and trends in specialized workforce training.
In April 2013, the Commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia appointed Dr. Shawn Utley as interim president of Wiregrass Georgia Tech, effective May 1, 2013. Dr. Utley is Vice President of Economic Development for Moultrie Technical College.
Dr. Tina K. Anderson was appointed the new president of Wiregrass Georgia Tech on June 6, 2013 and assumed her duties on Monday, July 1, 2013. Prior to coming to WGTC, Dr. Anderson was president at Moultrie Technical College.
The College continues to grow and change as the economic and industrial needs of the area demand.