The Effingham College and Career Academy has continually expanded its programs and enrollment since opening in 2010, and Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle sees many more good things ahead for the school and its community.
“I believe that this community has the potential of really seeing great economic expansion,” Cagle said on a visit to ECCA Tuesday to speak to students, teachers and community leaders.
Cagle cited the port of Savannah deepening as one factor poising the area for growth. Also, Moon River Studios plans to build the largest film studio in the U.S. in Effingham County, and Gulfstream Aerospace and other local industries are expanding.
ECCA will play a key role in meeting the growing need for workers, Cagle said. He touted Effingham as a prime example of business partnering with education for the betterment of the community.
“We think a college and career academy like Effingham, with the strong business support and them helping with apprenticeship opportunities, we can see huge jobs and huge expansions occur,” Cagle said. “So we want to continue to invest right here in Effingham County, and I think the college and career academy is a critical piece of that.”
To wit, approximately 50 ECCA students presently are interning at Gulfstream, according to academy CEO Barbara Prosser. Also, the Effingham College and Career Academy will start an aircraft structural assembly program next year, she said.
Prosser also echoed Cagle’s support for Georgia’s college and career academies to begin offering associate’s degrees. Students currently earn college credits, but not associate’s degrees.
“We’re with the lieutenant governor when he said he’d like to see associate’s degrees coming out of here. So would we,” Prosser said. “We would love that. That would be absolutely fantastic.”
About 535 students from Effingham’s two high schools are studying at ECCA this year, in programs including health care science, architecture, culinary arts, transportation and Web and digital design. Counting dual-enrolled students from Savannah Tech, ECCA’s enrollment approaches 600.
“We encourage work-based learning with our students,” Prosser said.
Georgia has 29 college and career academies and that number should grow to 33 by the end of this year, according to Cagle. He said his goal is to have college and career academies accessible to every student in the state by 2020.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that every community is going to have a college and career academy,” Cagle said. “But certainly they will be done in a regional context, and we have a number of those that already exist. By building these, you have the chance to really transform your community — because if you can turn out great workers that are skilled workers, industry will follow and they’ll want to be in your community.”
Communities seeking to have a college and career academy compete for grant money from the state. Approximately $15 million is currently budgeted toward that, Cagle said.
Georgia’s college and career academies are funded by state and local dollars. Funding also can come from partnerships with technical colleges and postsecondary schools.
“These are real economic engines for the community,” Cagle said. “It is all about workforce development and closing the skills gap.”