Augusta Christian Schools is expanding beyond its prekindergarten through 12th grade focus into the world of higher education and will open a two-year private college this fall.
The Christian College of Augusta received official state certification last month and is now accepting applicants for its inaugural class, said David Piccolo, Augusta Christian head of schools and president of the new college.
“I look at this really as an opportunity for students to get basic skills down before the next two years of college,” Piccolo said. “We just see this really having an impact.”
The goal is to target recent high school graduates who might not be prepared academically or mentally to attend a large university, as well as adults who want to return to school in an intimate setting.
The college will at first offer only an associates of general studies and an associates of religious studies, but has been approved by the state to offer 10 two-year programs from accounting to computer science.
Piccolo said he hopes to recruit about 30 students for the first semester and add degree programs as the enrollment grows. He said the school has about 10 professors prepared to teach and will hire more faculty as needed.
With a first-year budget of about $200,000, the college will initially run off philanthropic donations; tuition, which will start at $600 per course; and fees.
Because the school is not yet accredited, students will not be eligible for federal financial aid. However, Piccolo said administrators are seeking accreditation through Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools and hope to have the process completed in 2015.
The college will be housed on the second floor of the two-story building on Furys Ferry Road where Augusta Christian hosts its pre-K and kindergarten classes about a mile away from the main campus. The venue is an intimate and private space, with seven classrooms, a student lounge that will have snack machines and comfortable couches, and a small wing of offices.
Piccolo said he first had a vision to open a two-year Christian college while working as superintendent of Merritt Island Christian Schools in Florida. After being named head of schools at Augusta Christian in 2010, he presented the idea to the Board of Directors, but it did not take motion until 2011.
The process to receive state approval took almost two years of development, with John Bartlett, Augusta Christian executive assistant and former head of schools, spearheading the process.
In order to receive certification with the Georgia Non-public Postsecondary Education Commission, the college had to meet 12 standards that dictate everything from facilities to the curriculum.
Carl Camann, the deputy director of the state commission, said since the downturn of the economy began, there has been an uptick in applications for private and for-profit colleges in Georgia.
He said it is not unusual for such schools to start small, with 30 to 50 students, and grow over time to medium-sized institutions with various degree programs.
“You have to start somewhere,” said Camann, whose office oversees 325 institutions in the state. “There is still a place for an institution where you can go and you can know the people who are on the faculty, on the staff, in the administration, where you can recall who you sat next to in class and feel welcomed … What Christian College of Augusta has done is identified where they can start strongly.”
There are plans to link Augusta Christian’s current dual enrollment program to the school, so high school students can earn college credit in-house. The high school’s medical health academy, which allows students to leave 12th grade with a Certified Nursing Assistant license, could also link with the college for more advanced certificates. Bartlett said if enough interest in the community is shown, there is nothing stopping the school from one day evolving into a four-year institution.
“We honestly believe God is in this,” Bartlett said. “If we fulfill our mission to offer a program that is sound academically, challenging academically and based in a Christian context but persists in advocating for the individual student, the sky is the limit from here.”