ATLANTA -- A two-year study by the University System of Georgia shows classrooms are empty during most of the week.
Of the 440 classrooms at the University of Georgia, the average is used just 18.5 hours per 40-hour work week, and when used, only two-thirds of the seats are full, according to the study. That is a 31 percent utilization rate.
At the site of the former Augusta State University, now called Georgia Regents University’s Summerville campus, 73 rooms average 27.2 hours per 40-hour work week of use and are typically half empty when they’re used for a 37 percent utilization rate. At the medical complex near downtown Augusta, now called the Health Sciences campus, use is just 13.4 hours per week for the 26 rooms, but they are 82 percent full for a 28 percent utilization rate.
Savannah State University’s main campus averages 18.1 hours of scheduled use in a 40-hour work week for its 85 rooms, and only 61 percent of the seats are typically filled. Armstrong Atlantic State University also uses its 101 rooms about 18 hours per week, but with 72 percent of the seats occupied. That puts SSU’s utilization rate at 28 percent and Armstrong’s at 32.
College of Coastal Georgia’s 54 classrooms only average 14.7 hours of scheduled use per 40-hour work week, with 71 percent of the seats typically filled. That amounts to a 26 percent utilization rate.
The highest utilization rate, 77 percent at Georgia Gwinnett College, is five times higher than the lowest.
At most schools, the results show capacity for additional courses and for some bigger classes. But system administrators say there is a limit to how crowded a classroom can be.
“While each of these campuses could increase its classroom utilization rate, each also has individual characteristics that affect the components of utilization (time and seat occupancy),” notes Alan S. Travis, the system’s director of planning who oversaw the 64-site study.
For example, a large campus like the University of Georgia provides practical challenges for greater usage. Trying to use an empty English classroom far across campus from the physics building would create logistical problems for students and faculty.
The aging buildings at Savannah State University, for instance, and at other campuses are also harder to use because of their lack of flexibility, according to Travis.
In Augusta at Georgia Regents University, medical students take their classes together in lock step, so seats are filled because the classes are required. On the other hand, rooms set up especially for demonstration or experiments will be vacant more often because they can’t easily be used for other classes.
Still, the study has already saved taxpayers money, notes Phil Howard, the study’s coordinator at GRU. Before the university merged Augusta State University with Georgia Health Sciences University, ASU was planning a classroom building which the study proved could be postponed.
“This really is an example that illustrates the power of data,” he told the Board of Regents May 14.
It was at a 2011 meeting that Chancellor Hank Huckaby told the board his reasons for launching the analysis as a way to cope with economic realities.
“In this new environment, the major challenge is not building capacity: it is first to ensure the existing capacity is used as efficiently and effectively as possible,” he said. “Accordingly, we must ensure that we are utilizing our entire space well before new buildings are approved.”
He intends for the data to help evaluate school’s requests for more space. Renovation, better scheduling or changing the purpose of existing buildings will be options to new construction.
Another factor is the increasing use of online courses which will change the demands for classrooms in the future, officials say.