Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) received a $2.1 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education called the Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP) to improve academic quality, institutional management and fiscal responsibility.

The five-year grant is intended assist eligible higher education institutions to become more self-sufficient and expand capabilities to better serve lower-income students and boost graduation rates.

“Student success is our number one priority at GNTC,” said Pete McDonald, president of GNTC. “The faculty and administration of GNTC define student success as each student completing their academic program of study on-time and obtaining a job in their career field of choice.”

The proposal, “Success through Coaching and Access” that led to the grant was spearheaded by Samantha Bishop, credentialing and grants assistant at GNTC. It was designed based on feedback from students, faculty and staff with an objective to better serve lower income, first generation students.

“We are very excited about all the ways this grant will greatly enhance our distance learning capabilities and student support resources,” said Bishop. 

The grant proposal was based on feedback from surveys, interviews and input from a program design team. 

A five-year strategic plan was created based on the SIP grant. It consists of four key activities designed to increase the retention of full-time students seeking a degree, particularly underserved students.

The first activity in the Strengthening Institutions Program is the implementation of a videoconferencing-based distance learning system on all six campuses. GNTC serves nine counties in the northwest Georgia region with campuses in Catoosa, Floyd, Gordon, Polk, Walker and Whitfield counties.

Many classes are offered online, however there are some programs and courses that require direct interaction between instructors and students that isn’t possible through traditional online instruction. The telecommunications technology via live video will allow live interaction and also make distance learning a possibility for courses that previously were only available by traveling to a campus.

The first two campuses to be connected via video telecommunications technology will be the Gordon County Campus in Calhoun and the Walker County Campus in Rock Spring. Other GNTC campuses will receive these upgrades in later years throughout the program’s five-year period.

The second activity is the hiring of five new staff members to assist with admissions, financial aid, dual enrollment and students that are considered at risk of completing their program of study. Larry Blanchard of Rome was selected to be the coordinator of the Strengthening Institutions Program at GNTC.

Blanchard will oversee a team of four student success coaches that will work with first year, high need students that may need additional assistance. The four new student success coaches are Matt Bryant, Walker County Campus; Tracy Gentry, Whitfield Murray Campus; MaryAnn Russell, Floyd County Campus; and Victoria (Tori) Townsend, Gordon County Campus.

Gentry was previously with GNTC’s Financial Aid department and Russell was with GNTC’s Student Help Center before they became student success coaches.

Faculty development, both in-person and through the distance learning telecommunications system, is the third activity in the five-year plan. Topics will include synchronous interactive distance learning, cultural competency, utilizing on-campus resources and academic advising.

The fourth activity is implementing an institutional-wide data plan to address student needs, identify gaps in services and improvements to service and course development. GNTC will develop a strategy to improve workflows, policies and procedures based on data analysis to determine the best ways to advance student success.

“The college is very pleased to receive the $2.1m ‘Strengthening Institutions Program’ grant from the U. S. Department of Education,” said McDonald. “The funds will allow the college to dedicate additional staff to assist students to help them navigate through the challenges of college attendance, work and life.”