MARIETTA — The Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s monthly breakfast was all about education Monday morning.
During the First Monday Breakfast, Cobb County and Marietta’s top four Teachers of the Year received keys to new cars, and chamber members, along with representatives of 17 higher education institutions in Cobb, listened to a panel of four local college presidents who talked briefly about the major challenges that their institutions face and how they can help retain jobs in Cobb County.
Valery Voyles, president and CEO of Ed Voyles Automotive Group, presented car keys to Cobb County Teacher of the Year Coy Dunn, Marietta City Schools Teacher of the Year Joanna Cox, Cobb County Middle School Teacher of the Year Dawn Castleberry and Cobb County Elementary School Teacher of the Year Richard McKee.
“This is the fourth year that we’ve been involved in this program,” she said. “It is one of the most fulfilling things that we do as an organization. Our teachers are so special to us.”
Each Teacher of the Year received a car that he or she picked out from local car dealerships sometime last week. They are given the cars for a year, and if Dunn or Cox is named the Georgia Teacher of the Year, they will be able to keep the car.
Dunn chose a Honda Pilot, Cox got a Chrysler Town and Country, McKee picked a Kia Sorento and Castleberry selected a Hyundai Sonata Limited.
Chamber members also heard from Dr. Ron Newcomb, interim president at Chattahoochee Technical College; Dr. Ken Harmon, interim provost at Kennesaw State University; Dr. Guy Riekeman, president at Life University; and Dr. Lisa Rossbacher, president at Southern Polytechnic State University.
Each took a moment to describe what their schools offer to the county and explained what major challenges their schools face in the future.
Riekeman said he is worried about the tuition hike that students will see over the next 10 years at his private university.
For example, students currently enrolled in the chiropractic program at Life pay approximately $102,000 in tuition but by 2022, it could be around $152,000.
“One of my concerns is that it would put education out of the reach of most people,” he said. “I don’t see that funding is going to go up for the private or the public, and I don’t see the government expanding caps for what students can borrow … so we’re going to have to look for dollars in other places. That’s what absolutely keeps me up at night.”
Rossbacher said money was keeping her up at night as well.
“In the last 10 years we’ve seen the funding at Southern Polytechnic from the state go from 75 percent to less than 50 percent, so state funding is dramatically decreasing for the public higher education in the state,” she said. “They are the lowest they have been in about 15 years.”
She questioned how the school will be able to support the growth to staff the classes and meet the needs of students.
“How are we going to make up for the shortfall in funding?” she asked. “We’re shifting the responsibilities to the students — who do get the benefit — but it’s a concern about access to higher education.”
The panel also answered a question about how their institute is impacting economic development in Cobb.
Newcomb said Chattahoochee Tech is all about creating a strong work force for Cobb.
“Whatever business industry you’re in, we do the work force development,” he said. “You can’t operate if you don’t have the hands on folks to make it work.”
Kennesaw State’s Harmon said that last week he was reviewing a list of new programs for the school.
“The No. 1 filter that we put (programs) through right now is economic impact,” he said. “Everything we’re doing at the university right now, we’re thinking about the economic impact of the community around us.”
He said they are also focused on entrepreneurs and how to develop new businesses through these individuals.
“We are actually promoting getting out and being a part of the community and having numerous touches with the community,” he said. “It’s just part of who we are.”