When First District Agricultural & Mechanical School’s inaugural academic year began in 1908, few could have foreseen a major American university growing out of four faculty members and 15 students in just a little more than one lifetime.
Now in its second century of service, Georgia Southern boasts 20,000-plus students, 2,000 faculty and staff, and more than 100 programs of study at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.
Founded as a school for teaching modern agricultural production techniques and homemaking skills to rural schoolchildren, then-First District A&M School began within two decades to shift its emphasis to meet the growing need for teachers within the state. Its name and mission were changed in 1924 to Georgia Normal School as a training ground for educators, though it continued to accept “preparatory” or high school students. Five years later in 1929, full-fledged senior college status was granted as South Georgia Teachers College.
Ensuing decades saw additional name and mission changes: to Georgia Teachers College in 1939 and Georgia Southern College in 1959. Continued program and physical expansion, including one seven-year stretch, 1984-91 in which enrollment doubled from just over 6,000 to more than 12,000 students, led to a final transformation in 1990 – to Georgia Southern University.
Since then, the University has embarked on a massive upgrade of facilities, adding more than $250 million in new construction. At the same time, it has repurposed older buildings, primarily residence halls, to serve teaching and administrative needs.
Georgia Southern has become the largest and most comprehensive university in the southern half of Georgia, classified as a Doctoral/Research University by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Added emphasis on serving returning veterans has earned the University a “military-friendly” designation from Military Advanced Education. Kiplinger has named Georgia Southern a “Top 100 Best Value.”
The new millennium has seen the formation of two new colleges: the the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Information Technology and the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health. Additional undergraduate and graduate programs have been established that include doctoral degrees in psychology, education, logistics and supply chain management, public health, and nursing.
The growing demand for online learning has brought online bachelor’s degrees in business, nursing, and information technology. Master’s programs are offered online in business, accounting, economics, computer science, coaching, kinesiology, and a broad choice of education fields.
Georgia Southern’s athletics program has a long and storied history, rich with tradition born of success. The University has not only produced conference and national champions, but has parlayed private support into significantly enhanced facilities – crucial to the recruitment and retention of top athletes.
Intercollegiate athletic success – including six NCAA National Championships in football – has had a powerfully positive effect on the University’s public persona and pride of faculty, staff and students. All sports compete at the NCAA’s highest level with football, formerly FCS, joining the FBS ranks in fall 2014.
The University enhancing its profile with the addition of an ROTC building and a student Health Services complex while it remains ever vigilant for new opportunities to address emerging academic needs. Just as in the days of First District A&M and old ‘T.C., Georgia Southern University is eagerly pursuing new avenues to meet the challenges of a changing world.