Enrollment dips at most of Georgia’s public colleges

Kennesaw State University student Janay Bennett, third from left, and her mother Felicia Robinson move her belongings to her new dorm during move-in day at Kennesaw State University Campus in Kennesaw, Thursday, August 12, 2021. Kennesaw State was one of the few public colleges in the state that saw an enrollment increase this fall. Overall, 21 of 26 University System of Georgia schools saw enrollment drop this semester, similar to national trends. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Kennesaw State University student Janay Bennett, third from left, and her mother Felicia Robinson move her belongings to her new dorm during move-in day at Kennesaw State University Campus in Kennesaw, Thursday, August 12, 2021. Kennesaw State was one of the few public colleges in the state that saw an enrollment increase this fall. Overall, 21 of 26 University System of Georgia schools saw enrollment drop this semester, similar to national trends. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Fewer students are taking classes this fall at most of Georgia’s public colleges and universities following a national trend that has seen enrollment declines at colleges two years into the pandemic.

The University System of Georgia released a report Monday that showed enrollment dropped at 21 of its 26 schools. Enrollment increased at some of its largest schools, including many in metro Atlanta. For example, Georgia Tech’s enrollment rose by 10.3%.

The system’s total enrollment declined this fall for the first time in eight years, from 341,489 to 340,638 students, a decline of 0.2%. The average enrollment decline for schools with fewer students this fall was between 5% and 6%.

Georgia, though, has fared better than many states. System officials pointed out the enrollment decline is less than the rest of the nation. Undergraduate student enrollment nationally dipped by 3.2%, while the decline was 2.1% in the Georgia system.

Officials noted obstacles the system and colleges nationwide have had during the coronavirus pandemic maintaining enrollment. Many high school graduates have decided to take a gap year before beginning college and more low-income students have chosen to work instead of enrolling in college.

“I appreciate all the challenges our students have overcome as they have persisted on their journey toward their degree from a USG institution,” University System of Georgia acting Chancellor Teresa MacCartney said in a statement. “I applaud our presidents, faculty and staff for all they’ve done to make this fall successful.”

Here’s a closer look at the numbers:

The decline was greatest at smaller schools outside metro Atlanta

Smaller colleges and universities, particularly outside the Atlanta region, have seen enrollment declines in recent years. The trend continued this fall. Two schools — East Georgia and South Georgia state colleges — had enrollment drops this fall greater than 10%. Five schools — Savannah State University, along with Atlanta Metropolitan, Dalton, East Georgia and South Georgia state colleges — have had enrollment declines each of the last five years.

Fewer freshmen and sophomores

The report shows fewer younger students in the system. There were 78,262 freshman students in the Georgia system this fall, 524 fewer than 2020. The decline was even greater among sophomores. Last fall, there were 62,587 sophomores. This fall, there are 58,898 sophomores, a decline of 3,689 students from the prior school year. The decline among sophomores is potentially troubling since system administrators have been focused in recent years on making sure more freshmen progress to their sophomore year.

Georgia State University has the highest enrollment

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Georgia State University holds orientation for more than 150 incoming students on Wed., June 23, 2021. The school has more than 52,000 students, the largest enrollment of any college or university in Georgia. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Georgia State University holds orientation for more than 150 incoming students on Wed., June 23, 2021. The school has more than 52,000 students, the largest enrollment of any college or university in Georgia.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Georgia State University holds orientation for more than 150 incoming students on Wed., June 23, 2021. The school has more than 52,000 students, the largest enrollment of any college or university in Georgia. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Georgia State continues to have the highest enrollment of any college or university in the state. However, its enrollment declined from 53,743 students last fall to 52,350 this fall, a 2.5% drop. Georgia Tech, due in large part to its rising online graduate enrollment, now has the second-largest enrollment, with 43,859 students. Kennesaw State University has the third-highest enrollment, with 42,983 students. The University of Georgia is fourth, with 40,118 students, and Georgia Southern University is fifth, with 27,091 students.

More graduate students

The University System saw a major increase in graduate student enrollment, from 58,926 last fall to 63,808 currently. Much of that increase comes from Georgia Tech, which has actively worked to boost its online degree programs in recent years. Georgia Tech’s graduate enrollment increased from 23,210 last fall to 26,398 this fall.

More Asian and Hispanic students; fewer Black and white students

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Georgia Gwinnett College students Joel Linares and Lesny Avila interact moments before a networking event for Hispanic students on Tue., Oct. 12, 2021. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia Gwinnett College students Joel Linares and Lesny Avila interact moments before a networking event for Hispanic students on Tue., Oct. 12, 2021. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Georgia Gwinnett College students Joel Linares and Lesny Avila interact moments before a networking event for Hispanic students on Tue., Oct. 12, 2021. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia’s system saw a major increase in Asian students, by nearly 4,000 students to 40,015 this fall. Hispanic enrollment rose by about 1,000 students. Georgia Gwinnett College’s Hispanic enrollment surpassed 25%. It’s now the second school in the system to qualify as a Hispanic Serving Institution, making it eligible for federal grants and other resources for schools that reach such status. White student enrollment across the system declined by more than 3,000 students and Black student enrollment declined for the first time in four years, by more than 2,000 students.


Enrollment report

Here are the five University System of Georgia schools with enrollment increases and the five with the largest decreases

School 2020 Fall enrollment; 2021 Fall enrollment; percentage change

Increases

1. Georgia Tech 39,771; 43,859; 10.3%

2. Kennesaw State University 41,181; 42,983; 4.4%

3. University of Georgia 39,147; 40,118; 2.5%

4. Georgia Southern University 26,949; 27,091; 0.5%

5. Augusta University 9,565; 9,606; 0.4%

Decreases

1. East Georgia State College 2,415; 2,023; 16.2%

2. South Georgia State College 2,028; 1,774; 12.5%

3. Georgia Highlands College 5,680; 5,245; 7.7%

4. Middle Georgia State University 8,404; 7,885; 6.2%

5. College of Coastal Georgia 3,457; 3,249; 6.0%

Source: University System of Georgia

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