Bridges Begins 16th Year as ABAC President

Staff Report

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

When Dr. David Bridges became the 10th president in the history of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College on July 1, 2006, he had two main goals in mind.

“I knew we had to find a way to ensure the viability of the institution for the next 100 years, and we had to promote a sense of excellence across the curriculum,” Bridges, who began his 16th year at ABAC on July 1, said.  “Bachelor’s degrees were the key to both of those goals.”

Bachelor’s degree graduates walked across the ABAC stage in Gressette Gymnasium for the first time at the 2009 commencement.  ABAC was a two-year college for 75 years.

“Bachelor’s degrees changed everything,” Bridges said.  “I don’t think ABAC had a future as a two-year college.  Bachelor’s degrees changed our alumni base forever.  Fifty years from now, the makeup of our alumni will be quite different than the previous 50 years.

“Bachelor’s degrees changed our relationship with prospective employers for our graduates.  I think it changed the way people feel about us and the way we feel about ourselves.”

Bridges is the longest serving president in the history of ABAC and the longest serving president among the 26 colleges and universities in the University System of Georgia.  He is also the only ABAC president to have once been an ABAC student.  He graduated from ABAC with an associate degree in 1978.

Obviously excited about taking on the challenges of his 16th consecutive fall semester which begins at ABAC on Aug. 10, Bridges contemplated on why he has stayed at ABAC far beyond the average tenure of three to five years for a college president.

“When I took the job, I never thought about how long I was going to stay,” Bridges said.  “I stayed because there were still things to do here.  I want ABAC to continue to provide opportunities for students in rural parts of the state to get a great education at a reasonable cost.

“My hope is that many of those students will choose to go back to those rural communities and make them better because of the education they received at ABAC.”

Through the years, the 63-year-old native of Parrott has received numerous offers of employment to try to lure him away from ABAC.

“None of them titillated my interest enough to make me leave my job here,” Bridges said.  “People ask me when I’m going to retire.  I tell them all the same thing.  I’m going to be here until I’m not here anymore.”

During his tenure, Bridges has guided ABAC through the addition of bachelor’s degrees which are now 12 in number including agribusiness, biology, agriculture, nursing, agricultural communication, writing and communication, agricultural education, history and government, environmental horticulture, business, natural resource management, and rural community development.

“A little-known fact is that biology is ABAC’s fastest growing single bachelor’s degree,” Bridges said.  “And we had an all-time record number of students enrolled in many different bachelor’s degrees in the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources last year.”

ABAC recorded its second highest enrollment ever in 2020 with 3,990 students from 24 countries, 19 states, 155 of Georgia’s 159 counties, and 53 of Florida’s 67 counties.  A total of 2,353 of those students were enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs and in a remarkable change from when Bridges first became president, females were 59.4 per cent of that number.

“Our student body has changed over the years,” Bridges said.  “I believe a number of our students are more focused on getting to the end and completing their four-year degrees.

“When I came to ABAC, we were essentially open enrollment.  Our first-year retention rate was 40 per cent.  Now, it is over 60 per cent.”

Bridges has jumped over hurdles aplenty since he became president.  Those have included taking over the Georgia Agrirama and making it a part of the ABAC campus, merging the Bainbridge State College campus into ABAC, and surviving the coronavirus pandemic.

“We learned some things during the pandemic about how we can do business better,” Bridges said.  “It was certainly a challenge for the leadership of the college, but we have come through it quite well.

“I’m actually more concerned about the pandemic’s impact on us in the future than its impact on our past.  Have we lost something on the engagement side that will have a lasting impact in the future?  Time will tell I guess.”

More ABAC challenges and opportunities are straight ahead.

“Oh sure, there are always challenges and things to do,” Bridges said.  “We just have to stay on point, be focused on who we are, and continue to strive for excellence in everything we do.

“To know us is to love us.  We just have to get more people to know us.”