When Georgia Regents University President Ricardo Azziz referred to a population decline in Augusta, he was talking about young people and not total residents, a senior official said Friday. He should have made that distinction but did not, the official conceded.
Azziz touched off a firestorm earlier this week when he was updating the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and said Augusta’s population “has decreased by 10 percent” while noting a 70 percent increase in the Atlanta area. Azziz went on to say that is a reason GRU needs an Atlanta presence.
In total population, Augusta has actually increased nearly 6 percent since 1990, figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show.
What Azziz was referring to was a decline among those from birth to age 17 and from ages 5 to 17 between 2000 and 2010, said David L. Brond, senior vice president of communications and marketing at GRU. The number of children ages birth to 17 in Richmond County declined by 8 percent over that period and those ages 5-17 declined by 12.5 percent, Brond said. The Augusta Chronicle verified those numbers independently using Census data, which was the source of the GRU data as well.
Those age categories are “the future lifeline for a university,” Brond said. “That’s really a population that a university cares about.”
Azziz just failed to mention that the decline referred to younger people, Brond said.
“He just didn’t express that,” he said. “He’s giving a (28-minute) presentation, it was at the very end. He didn’t have specific talking points, a speech in front of him.”
It was data pulled by the university’s Division of Institutional Effectiveness that Azziz had probably seen earlier and was recalling, Brond said.
“He gets a lot of information and he pores over it,” he said. “He has a lot of this data in his head and he knew about the population trends. So he knew about that.”
The reference to population trends refers to future growth, Brond said.
“We need to not only attract local students but we need to be effectively reaching out across the state to attract from more populous areas,” he said.
That does not mean he was lobbying for an Atlanta campus, Brond said.
“I don’t recall him saying the word ‘campus’ after he said the word ‘Atlanta’ but Atlanta is important because of the percentage of the population that lives there, of course,” he said. The university already draws almost 20 percent of its students from the Atlanta area and 25 percent of its alumni that live in Georgia live in the Atlanta area, Brond said.
“It’s important for us to have a presence in Atlanta and relationships and associations with organizations in Atlanta,” he said. The university already is advertising in Atlanta malls for some of its programs, for instance.
Trying to create an Atlanta campus would require “a lot of conversations with the University System of Georgia” and would have to look at the impact on other university system institutions in Atlanta, Brond said.
Staff writer Sandy Hodson contributed to this report.