Gadsden State Community College is a public community college headquartered in Gadsden, Etowah County. It is under the control of the Alabama State Board of Education (BoE) and part of the Alabama Community College System. Comprised of six campuses and sites, present-day Gadsden State began with the merger of Alabama Technical College, Gadsden State Technical Institute, and Gadsden State Junior College on February 28, 1985, by the BoE. The Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education recommended the merger of the three institutions to eliminate duplication of courses and to better serve students. Gadsden State has since expanded with the merger of the former Harry M. Ayers State Technical College in 2003 and the establishment of additional campuses in Anniston and Centre. The college also offers instruction at St. Clair Correctional Facility. Gadsden State is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award associate degrees.
Present-day Gadsden State enrolls approximately 8,000 students on its six campuses; the student body includes citizens of more than 50 countries. Gadsden State currently offers two-year associate in arts/science degrees in 34 programs, including agribusiness education, aquatic biology, criminal justice, pre-athletic training, and computer information systems as well as a number of pre-professional degrees in the fields of medicine, law, engineering, and forestry. The college also offers associate in applied science degrees in 22 programs, such as automotive manufacturing technology, drafting and design technology, industrial automation technology and real-time reporting/broadcast captioning. Gadsden State is the only community college in Alabama with a gross anatomy laboratory and an aquaculture program and was among the first to institute an Honors Scholar Program. The International Program has welcomed students from more than 50 countries since its inception in 1968.
One of the initial founding institutions of Gadsden State and the oldest of the institutions, Alabama Technical College was established in 1925 as the Alabama School of Trades and was the first state-operated trade school in the southern United States. When it opened, instruction in four trades was offered—brick masonry, carpentry, electrical, and printing. Students helped government workmen lay the bricks to build the schools first permanent two-story buildings. In 1941, the school had an enrollment of approximately 200 students from 44 counties throughout the state and several from out-of-state. In 1973, it became Alabama Technical College and after the merger was renamed the East Broad Campus of Gadsden State Community College.
Gadsden State Technical Institute began in 1960 as Gadsden Vocational Trade School, a private vocational training school for African Americans. It was founded by Eugene N. Prater, director of the Veterans General Continuation Program for Negroes, in response to discontent expressed by black veterans of Etowah County for being denied admission to the all-white Alabama School of Trades. The new school was approved by the Veterans Administration for training under the G.I. Bill and began to enroll black veterans. By August 1961, enrollment was at 71, and course offerings included auto mechanics and repair, plastering and cement finishing, brick masonry, woodworking, dry cleaning and laundry, general business, and tailoring. The BoE identified the school as part of the state's network of vocational/technical schools and appointed Prater as the director. In 1962, the state of Alabama assumed ownership of the school, and in 1972, it was renamed Gadsden State Technical Institute. For 10 years, until desegregation in 1970, the school was the only local technical institution of higher learning in the Gadsden area to enroll African Americans. The U.S. Department of Education designated this institution as a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in 1997. The facility now serves as the Valley Street Campus of Gadsden State.
Gadsden State Junior College was established in 1965 by an act of the State Legislature during the administration of Governor George C. Wallace. During the first fall term, under President Allan D. Naylor, the school admitted 740 full-time freshmen and employed 36 faculty members and administrators and 14 other staff. At this time, the school had two main buildings, the James B. Allen Administration and Browder Hall Science Buildings. The course offerings included professional programs such as architecture, business administration, dentistry, engineering, home economics, journalism, law, medicine, music, science, social work, and teacher education. Technical programs offered included architectural technology, data processing technology, engineering technology, management and supervision technology, medical secretary, nursing education, and secretarial science. In addition to the programs offered in regular day classes, night classes were offered in 18 fields of study. Gadsden State Junior College served students from 12 counties and four states. It is currently identified as the Wallace Drive Campus of Gadsden State Community College.
Harry M. Ayers State Technical College, named for the long-time editor of the Anniston Star newspaper, was initially founded as the Harry M. Ayers State Trade School by an act of the Alabama Legislature on May 3, 1963. In 1972, the BoE designated the institution as a technical college that offered students associate's degree and certificate programs in such fields as accounting, automotive body repair, carpentry, childcare, computer and information science, cosmetology, general drafting, electrical, medical laboratory technician, practical nursing, surgical/operating room technician, and welding technology. The Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education again recommended the merger of the two institutions to eliminate duplication of courses, so on July 8, 2003, the BoE merged the institution with Gadsden State. The merger enabled Gadsden State to expand programs in workforce development, adult education, and academic transfer options. It is now called the Ayers Campus of Gadsden State Community College.
In addition to these campuses, Gadsden State Community College operates the McClellan Center in Anniston and the Gadsden State Cherokee campus in Centre (Cherokee County). The McClellan Center, formerly known as the Anniston Center, has been in operation since 1970. In November 2004, the center moved to its current location on the grounds of the former Fort McClellan Army Base. It offers health science courses in nursing and surgical/operating room technology as well as academic transfer classes. McClellan Center houses one of Gadsden State's two Gross Anatomy Labs.
In August 2002, Gadsden State opened the Cherokee County Instructional Site in response to community and governmental efforts to meet the growing educational needs in the region. Evening courses offered included computer science, mathematics, biology, fine arts, humanities, and social sciences. The site was relocated in August 2008 to a multi-level complex that offers an expanded list of courses for students wishing to earn an associate's degree and transfer to a four-year institution. The complex consists of learning laboratories in computer science, biology, nursing, and workforce development. The Division of Health Sciences offers coursework for a certification in licensed practical nursing and the first two semesters of required courses for a degree in registered nursing. The Cherokee branch's Economic Development Center enables Gadsden State to partner with local communities to promote community, workforce, and economic development. In addition, the branch has a multipurpose 2,500-seat arena, a 300-seat conference room, and additional smaller meeting rooms. The complex also hosts some offices of the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce.
Gadsden State also offers high school students early experience with college-level coursework in the Early College Enrollment, Dual Enrollment, Educational Talent Search, Upward Bound, and Career Transitions Programs. In addition, the college participates in many of the state's workforce development efforts, working with area high schools, municipal governments, industrial development organizations, chambers of commerce, current and prospective businesses, and other colleges to provide training in emerging job fields.
Students at Gadsden State have the opportunity to participate in the school's more than 30 clubs and organizations, including the Paralegal Association, Circle K, Phi Theta Kappa, and the Student Government Association. In addition, students may participate in fine arts organizations such as the Gadsden State Show Band, Ensemble, Southern Belle Dancers, and other theatre and art programs.
Gadsden State fields five varsity athletic teams within the National Junior College Athletic Association. The school mascot is Swoop the Cardinal, and the school colors are cardinal red and silver. Men's sports include basketball, and tennis; women's sports include basketball, softball, and volleyball.
Gadsden State Community College serves the following areas: Calhoun County, Cherokee County (all but northern one-sixth), Cleburne County, Etowah County, and St. Clair County (northeastern third). Raymond W. Staats became Gadsden State's seventh president on June 1, 2011. Notable alumni include Jeff Cook of the country music group Alabama.