Augusta State University’s student body shrank for the third year in a row as the fall 2012 semester started with 242 fewer students than last year.
As the second week of the semester comes to a close, enrollment fell to 6,498 students, compared to 6,740 this time last year and 6,919 in fall 2010. Spokeswoman Danielle Harris said the 2012 enrollment is not yet official.
Last year’s dip was blamed mostly on cuts to Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship program, which reduced the amount of financial aid students received for tuition, fees and books. State officials predict that other Georgia schools also will see a slight decrease in enrollment this year as students continue to battle the higher costs of education with less aid.
“People aren’t really considering the fact that our population needs to be an educated population, and we need to invest in those students so we can have an educated workforce in the future,” said Shannon King, a communications and history senior at ASU.
King said she and other students were affected by the HOPE cuts and the federal government’s 2011 decision to no longer offer Pell Grants for summer classes.
King found out that her summer courses would not be paid for with her Pell funds shortly before classes started this summer. She was able to raise money to cover the costs through family but realized not everyone is as lucky.
“Not everybody has someone they can cry to,” King said.
Gov. Nathan Deal approved a cut to the HOPE Scholarship in 2011, when the lottery-funded program began to see less revenue.
The scholarship once covered 100 percent of in-state public college tuition, books and fees for high school graduates with a 3.0 or better grade-point average. Now those students receive 90 percent of tuition and no reimbursement for books or fees.
Only valedictorians, salutatorians and those with a 3.7 or better GPA who score at least 1200 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT receive full tuition coverage under the Zell Miller Scholarship Program.
The state also implemented higher tuition this year, which increased by 2.5 percent at most schools, including ASU.
Enrollment at the University System of Georgia’s 35 schools has gradually increased over the past two decades, but officials said that trend could change because of the economy.
Spokesman John Millsaps said USG Vice Chancellor of Fiscal Affairs John Brown predicted lower enrollments for the fall because of changes to financial aid and certain admission requirements.
“Some institutions could have an impact on enrollment this fall,” Millsaps said, adding that final enrollment figures will not be available until November.
Millsaps said the potential drop could have an impact on budgets because lower enrollment means less tuition money for the schools.
He said a new USG admission policy that denies admission to students who need too many remedial classes could also affect enrollment.
Other local colleges outside the USG are also seeing little change in growth.
Patti McGrath, the director of marketing at the University of South Carolina Aiken, said the school’s fall enrollment is even with this time last year. The school will not release its fall 2012 numbers until registration ends, but 3,277 students enrolled for fall 2011.
“We’re pretty much exactly where we were last year,” McGrath said. “Our freshmen coming in may be smaller, but transfers are up. So we’re pretty much dead even.”
Fall enrollment at Aiken Technical College is also about even with the 3,000 students at this time last year, but more students are expected to register for a shorter term starting later in the semester, according to a statement from Bryan Newton, the college’s associate vice president for marketing and enrollment management.
Though financial demands on students have grown, King said it has not deterred her from finishing school to better her future. While some students might take longer to complete classes to spread the costs, graduation is still the goal.
“They keep cutting every year, but getting a college education is still important,” she said.