Enrollment up for Ga. college system; some schools see declines

Enrollment in the state’s public college system inched up slightly this fall to 318,164 students, the second year of increases for the 30-school system.

The 1.7 percent increase from fall 2014 to fall 2015 amounted to an additional 5,228 students, according to numbers released Thursday.

Since enrollment is tied to how the state funds the university system, more students enrolled ultimately means more money for the public college system.

Unsurprisingly, Kennesaw State University, whose merger with Southern Polytechnic State University was completed this year, saw the largest enrollment increase, 29.3 percent, to 33,252 students, slightly surpassing the combined 32,500 student enrollment of the two institutions last fall. Georgia Tech saw the next-largest increase, 1,926 additional students, or a 8.3 percent increase, for a fall 2015 enrollment of 25,034 students.

“We are encouraged by the year over year increase in our fall enrollment, but this is just the beginning and we still have work ahead of us to continually increase the number of Georgians with college degrees,” system Chancellor Hank Huckaby said in a statement. “We are staying focused on our Complete College Georgia initiative and will continue our efforts to recruit and retain students, and fully support them through their completion of college.”

The Complete College initiative goal is to increase by 250,000 the number of Georgians with some type of degree or credential beyond a high school diploma over the next 10 years. To boost the numbers, the state’s university system has offered more courses online and expanded its dual enrollment program allowing high school students to earn college credit.

In contrast to the overall system increase, enrollment at 12 schools dropped, including at Georgia State and newly renamed Augusta University, formerly Georgia Regents University. Some of the schools have seen years of declines that have been blamed on a number of factors including changes in federal financial aid rules and state policies limiting remedial college courses and the rising cost of college.

The largest decline, 10.7 percent, occurred at Albany State University, one of the system’s three historically black colleges. Four years of enrollment declines and resulting budget deficits led Albany State to announce last month a plan to deactivate 10 low-performing degree programs.

About 418 students have left the school for various reasons, said Abiodun Ojemakinde, Albany State’s vice president and provost in a statement Thursday, adding that the issues are “much more complex” than they appear. “We realize that what we must do is strengthen our retention plan and pursue an aggressive recruitment effort.”

The university has hired new administrators responsible for enrollment, financial aid, academic counseling and retention; reorganized its student recruitment cycle and expanded partnerships with other area colleges, which should help reverse the enrollment decline, school officials said.

To boost sagging enrollment numbers, particularly at some South Georgia colleges including Albany State, the University System recently began offering cheaper-in-state tuition to students from surrounding states. Huckaby has also advocated for some type of statewide needs-based financial aid system, similar to the popular merit-based HOPE scholarship.

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