Demographics And Spirituality
Founders of a new Catholic college hope to fill a need
With more than 100 post secondary schools in Georgia, it might seem that the last thing the state needs is another institution of higher learning. But one group of business leaders and educators is working hard to establish the state’s first Catholic college.
If everything goes according to plan, Southern Catholic College will open its doors in Dawsonville, some 50 miles north of Atlanta, in the fall of 2005. The private, co-educational, liberal arts college expects an initial enrollment of 150 students, and hopes to increase to 3,000 by 2015.
Chairman of the Board Thomas J. Clements believes there’s a growing need for this kind of school. "There are 235 Catholic colleges in this country," Clements says, "but Georgia is the tenth most populous state and we have none." He notes that the Atlanta area’s Catholic population has increased dramatically, from 159,800 in 1990 to 321,978 Catholics in 2002.
Demographics aside, Clements be-lieves there’s a need for colleges that stress morality and ethics. Southern Catholic’s goal, Clements says, is to "prepare students to be leaders in business, professional and civic life."
Clements began studying the need for a Catholic college after selling his company, Conduit Software, in April 1999. He talked to others who shared his vision, then established a board of trustees and incorporated in 2000.
Southern Catholic has the approval of the Roman Catholic Atlanta archdiocese, even though the school will be independent of the archdiocese; lay faculty and staff, not members of any particular religious order, will handle teaching and administrative duties at the college.
Launching a new college is a daunting task. Raising money is always at the top of the "to-do" list. Initial plans for Southern Catholic called for raising $10 million before groundbreaking — originally planned for May 2002 — and another $10 million the next fiscal year. Early money began coming in as board members got the word out and made presentations at Atlanta area Catholic churches. The first $10-million goal was met; but a sluggish economy slowed further contributions.
"It has been a difficult last two years for all organizations that depend on donations," says board member Carlos Rodriquez, CEO of Duluth-based LaCazuela Restaurants. "But all organizations face challenges."
One of Southern Catholic’s first challenges, says Rodriquez, was the decision to delay the opening to fall 2005. So far, $14.5 million has been raised for the college.
Board members remain enthusiastic about plans for the school. "We see this as a really intellectually challenging school, with a strong academic component and a liberal arts focus. There will be a culture of spirituality," says board member Dr. Carol Z. McGrevin, recently retired from Georgia State University.
"This board is very hands-on," McGrevin says. While board members bring varied expertise to the project, she says, each is involved in establishing policy and raising money.
Application for accreditation from SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the group that accredits higher education institutions) will begin when the school opens its doors.
The board has hired the Atlanta office of worldwide architectural engineering HOK, which has done work for Emory, Equifax and the CDC, to create a detailed master plan for the campus and buildings. Founding President Dr. Jeremiah J. Ashcroft couldn’t be more pleased with the results. "It’s a very rare opportunity to start an institution from the ground floor," he says. "You can’t just build anything."
In addition to recruiting students, Ashcroft says his responsibilities include laying the groundwork for the high quality instruction and the kind of environment that the board expects the school to become known for. "We believe strongly that each student is on his or her personal journey."
Not all students will be Catholic, but all will be part of the spiritual community that founders believe is an integral part of an education. Ashcroft says participation in community service projects will give students "an understanding of what it means to be an ethical and moral person."
And there’s one other element the school’s founders agree is every bit as critical as the fund-raising and research that have backed the effort thus far. That component, says Ashcroft "is a lot of prayer."