Atlanta Higher Education: Ahead of the Curve

Atlanta Higher Education: Ahead of the Curve

By Ken Abramczyk

As metro Atlanta residents look for careers, they are looking for rewarding opportunities that pay the bills while giving them job satisfaction. Yet, many also would like to get out into the working world without having to complete a four-year program of study at a large college or university. Instead, they would prefer to find their way to an in-demand career that allows them to attend a higher educational institution close to home that provides an easy commute and offers hands-on training to get a great feel for the job.

Today, many people turn to local technical colleges, many of which are part of the Technical College System of Georgia. Last year 37,000 students graduated from its 22 colleges, and the system boasts that 99 percent of graduates are either employed or continuing their education. These schools also promote their affordability; tuition at technical schools starts at $100 per credit hour for in-state residents, and fees vary depending on the school and program. Students can enter programs that range in length from six months to two years, depending on whether program completion merits certification, a diploma or an associate degree. If you are interested in learning more about the metro area’s offerings, the following technical colleges—and their hallmark programs—are ones to consider.

Chattahoochee Technical College

An education at Chattahoochee Tech is accessible and affordable, says Jason Tanner, executive vice president for instruction. “We offer programs that align with in-demand and well-paying careers available in our service area in the metro Atlanta area and all across Georgia,” he notes. “College and higher education are attainable local for students, so we encourage them to learn more about us and come in with the mindset that they will be admitted, that they can afford to go to college and that they will find a pathway that leads to a fulfilling career.”

At Chattahoochee Tech, registered nursing is one of the most popular programs, while radiography is the school’s most popular health sciences program. “Outside of health sciences and nursing, programs like cybersecurity and computer programming are popular,” Tanner says. “But more traditional technical programs, like automotive technology and industrial maintenance, are requested by students and potential employers. We also have very popular programs in professional services like cosmetology.”

Based in Marietta with eight campus ­locations, Chattahoochee Tech has programs that can be completed in eight weeks or one full term (16 weeks), while others lead to two-year degrees; some online flexibility is available depending on the classes. According to Tanner, “Our schedule offers evening and day courses for students who attend in person and online courses in core and program classes for those students who want some or all of either option.” What’s more, some programs are completely online, such as business technology or supply chain management and logistics. He adds, “Some programs will require a clinical component or practicum at offsite locations.”

When finished, income for those who graduate or complete programs or certification depends on the field and working circumstances in that industry. “We stress to students that they will be entry-level technicians when they finish something like industrial maintenance,” Tanner says. “Many manufacturers are paying such technicians $25 to $30 an hour.” Nurses’ pay varies depending on shifts and specializations, while CDL drivers need to decide if going “over-the-road” (longer freight distances) versus shorter drives is worth the pay difference.

Tanner concludes, “Students need to ask questions about the specific program they are interested in, and we will help them make informed choices about all of these things, including earning potential and the full range of benefits potential employers offer in addition to pay.”


Gwinnett Technical College

A tech education creates economic mobility for students according to Melissa Smith, executive director of communications at Gwinnett Technical College. “Many of our students come to us with no prior college or are first-generation college students,” she says. “Students come to Gwinnett Tech for specific training in computer sciences, healthcare, automotive early education and engineering to gain the knowledge, skills and abilities to advance in their careers or get a career—not just a job. This knowledge is paramount to their well-being, families and our community.”

While the school offers a wide array of programs at its Lawrenceville and Alpharetta (North Fulton) locations, registered nursing is Gwinnett Tech’s top choice. The school’s programs range in length depending on the area of study, typically from one semester to two years. Tuition and fees for a full-time student total $1,678 per semester with fees of $478 for the 2023-2024 school year. Students can take classes in person, online and in a hybrid format. Classes vary on availability each semester.

Of course, upon completion of a program, salary ranges differ according to job positions. For instance, the annual mean average for auto technicians is $57,500; for computer network specialists, it is $90,400. Programs at Gwinnett Tech allow students to find that path that works best for them.


Georgia Piedmont Technical College

Many technical colleges tout a high job placement rate, including Georgia Piedmont Technical College (GPTC) in Clarkston. In fact, Cheryl Myers, executive director, marketing and communications, reveals that the school boasts a 99 percent job placement rate. With that rate, she notes, “Enrolling in technical college is one of the wisest investments one can make. Earning a credential at GPTC means students will combine classroom and hands-on training so, when they finish their program, they’re ready to jump right into their career of choice.”

After nursing, GPTC lists cosmetology, computer information systems, cybersecurity and welding/joining technology as its most popular programs among the more than 200 offered. Students can earn credentials from technical certificates completed in a few months to diplomas in 18 months to associate degrees in two years. Tuition at the institution and other schools in the Technical College System of Georgia is $100 a credit, a fraction of four-year institutions. Fees run at $394 but vary depending on the program of choice. Additionally, Myers notes, “Students have plenty of financial aid options, like a federal Pell grant, HOPE grant and scholarship, Veterans Administration and much more.” GPTC offers in person, online and hybrid class options, depending on program of study.


West Georgia Technical College

Practical skills and knowledge gained from an education at West Georgia ­Technical College in Waco can lead to better job prospects and career opportunities. “Our programs are designed to meet the demands of the workforce, ensuring that students are well prepared for real-world employment,” says Amy Dollar, director of marketing and communications. “This education is a valuable investment in their future success and financial stability.”

Demand for the college’s programs tend to follow workforce needs in the community and the available jobs. In the most recent academic year, allied health and nursing programs had the highest enrollment, followed closely by the associate for business programs. Cosmetology and welding enroll the most in the diploma and technical certification areas.

West Georgia Tech boasts an average placement rate of 99 percent, and 89 percent of those are in-field. Dollar explains, “Whether we are training you for a cybersecurity major or a precision manufacturing major, you will have the job skills and knowledge to land a job in the industry of your choice.”

Students can complete a certificate training program in one to two semesters or an associate degree in two years. Tuition is $100 a credit hour and $386 in fees, but students in certain programs will pay additional fees.

“We also offer classes both days and evenings and some Friday-only courses too for those who work during the week,” Dollar says. “We work hard to offer classes in formats that students can work into their work and family life. While some programs do require a full-time student status, many allow students to attend college part-time so they can work and pursue their education at the same time.”

West Georgia Tech offers more than 50 programs in which graduates can earn $50,000 and up annually, allowing students to achieve their professional and financial goals quickly upon completing the program of their choice.