Campus expansion, more university-owned student housing and recruiting efforts in metro Atlanta are bringing more non-Augustans to Augusta State University, school administrators say.
Since 2004, the year before a new student housing complex opened, the number of college students from Georgia counties other than Richmond, Columbia and McDuffie increased from 775 to 1,117 in fall 2010.
Total enrollment increased from 6,368 to 6,919 in the same period, according to the university’s Office of Institutional Research.
Macy Knowles, a sophomore from Milledgeville, Ga., is one of the new students who moved away from home and into University Village student apartments.
Many of Knowles’ high school classmates stayed in Milledgeville, but a campus tour of ASU convinced her she didn’t even want to complete applications to other state universities.
“I was ready to get the college experience and live on my own. That was definitely a plus,” she said. “I love being here, and it’s not like I look forward to going home on the weekends.”
Students like Knowles who aren’t from Augusta or nearby are finding that the school is a place to live, make friends and have fun. Knowles has become involved in student life as a cheerleader and a member of a sorority.
As a tour guide for the admissions office, she’s selling her story that ASU is more than a commuter college.
Since University Village opened, the admissions office has focused recruiting on the Atlanta area, which has large numbers of college-bound high school students. It would like to recruit more heavily, even hiring a full-time recruitment officer in the Atlanta area, but additional university-owned housing needs to be added first, said Katherine Sweeney, the registrar and director of admissions.
On ASU campus tours, interested students might find a busy campus where students are engaged outside the classroom. Previously, most prospective students from out of town lost interest when they heard housing wasn’t available, Sweeney said.
“They are understanding now that we exist,” she said. “If you come to a campus tour and no one is there, what do you think?”
University Village attracts mostly nonlocal students to the 500 beds in two- and four-bedroom apartments. This fall, just 86 of 468 residents have listed hometowns of Augusta, Hephzibah, Harlem, Thomson, Evans, North Augusta and Aiken. The rest come from around Georgia, 46 other states and even other countries.
Scott Argo, the assistant director of admissions, said recruitment has been strongest in the Atlanta suburbs, especially Gwinnett County. Some Atlanta private school students pay less for college tuition at ASU than they paid for high school.
In 2004, the year before student housing opened, 20 Gwinnett County students enrolled at ASU. That number peaked at 94 students in 2010.
More high school counselors are recommending Augusta State to students, but the best recruiting tool has been word of mouth from students who return home and share a positive college experience, Argo said.
Although the apartments are not on the main campus, the influx of nonlocal students has helped create a more vibrant community life on campus.
Sweeney has noticed that as more nonlocal students spend their time on campus, local commuter students have started to do the same.
Students might find that that ASU has other things going for it besides housing and a growing campus life. Compared to other state universities that are expanding rapidly, Augusta State has a tight-knit feel and small class sizes, where professors know students’ name, Sweeney said.
The once-commuter campus is transforming into a traditional university with a regional draw, said Joyce Jones, the university’s vice president of student affairs.
“The real college experience is going away from home and getting involved in co-curricular programming,” Jones said.
Housing and new buildings, such as a student activities center with a food court, fitness center and improved technology, entice people to stay on campus when not in class.
“The student center is like the living room of campus,” Jones said. “I used to see students come to class and go home. That is definitely not the case.”