Summer enrollment drop could indicate problems for colleges this fall

Fewer students translates to less money for colleges because they will have less tuition revenue. Tuition and fees provide roughly half the cost of teaching students.

Of the system's 35 colleges, 33 taught fewer students this summer. Leaders blamed the system's 10 percent decline on the weak economy as well as changes to the federal Pell Grant program and the state's HOPE scholarship.

A dip also is expected for the fall semester, which has already started on some campuses. About two-thirds of the colleges will see fall enrollment remain flat or decrease slightly, said John Brown, vice chancellor for fiscal affairs. Enrollment had steadily increased over the past decade and has only dropped twice since 1978.

Georgia colleges have relied on the extra tuition revenue from higher enrollments to soften cuts in state funding. Gov. Nathan Deal told colleges to prepare for another $54 million reduction this fiscal year.

The fall decline is predicted to hit two-year colleges such as Georgia Perimeter and Atlanta Metropolitan the hardest because they will be affected the most by new admissions criteria. Students who need too much remedial help in English and math can no longer attend.

Even before that new rule, colleges anticipated a slowdown, noting this was the first summer HOPE didn't cover all tuition for the vast majority of recipients. Lawmakers overhauled the program to prevent it from running out of money.

Also, to save money the federal government changed the needs-based Pell program. Students used to be able to receive two grants in one year to help pay for summer classes, but that option is no longer available.

Georgia State University's summer enrollment dropped 8 percent and Associate Provost Tim Renick attributed much of the decline to Pell changes. Last summer the school taught 4,555 students who received the grant. This year only 1,648 came.

"The students had to make a choice and many chose not to be here over the summer," Renick said. "They're using the money for fall and spring instead."

Georgia State is on track to enroll more than 32,000 students this fall, which would be increase over last year.

Two schools taught more students this summer.

Georgia Gwinnett College summer enrollment increased by 11 percent. The college opened in 2006 and has grown annually.

North Georgia College & State University increased by 28 percent, driven by programs offered to ROTC cadets and Army lieutenants from around the country.

It's too soon to know what fall enrollment numbers will look like for these colleges and others, as some campuses are still enrolling students.

The University System will release final fall enrollment figures in the next couple of months. Early estimates show enrollment will drop from about 318,000 last year to 317,000.

Fewer students

The University System of Georgia experienced a 10 percent drop in summer enrollment this year. In all 33 of the system's 35 campuses taught fewer students. Here are some campuses in the metro area:

College ... Summer 2012 ... Percent change

Georgia Tech ... 8,962 ... -2.8%

Georgia State ... 14,840 ... -8.1%

University of Georgia ... 13,854 ... -6.5%

Clayton State ... 3,508 ... -14%

Kennesaw State ... 10,836 ... -7.9%

Southern Poly ... 2,529 ... -7.8%

U. West Georgia ... 5,189 ... -11.6%

Atlanta Metro ... 1,515 ... -11.2%

Georgia Gwinnett ... 3,038 ... +11.3%

Georgia Perimeter ... 14,109 ... -15.5%

System total ... 140,227 ... -10%

This year's drop reverses what has been steady growth. Here's total system summer enrollment for the past five years

Year ... Enrollment ... Percent change

2012 ... 140,227 ... -10%

2011 ... 155,886 ... +1%

2010 ... 154,381 ... +4.1%

2009 ... 148,324 ... +7.1%

2008 ... 138,541 ... +3.4%

Source: University System of Georgia.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.