Augusta State University's declining enrollment could be fixed by getting more area high school graduates to attend the college, the school's officials said Thursday.
However, that group of young people now is either deciding to attend school elsewhere, uninterested in college or ill-prepared when graduating from high school.
At a luncheon at Augusta Country Club, the university's leaders made a commitment to "expanding the education franchise" in Augusta to include everyone.
"(ASU) enhances this community by educating this community," said state Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta, who is a member of the university's board of trustees. "Unlike other universities, Augusta State University doesn't have dormitories. Most of the students stay in this community, as I did. This university doesn't have the luxury of recruiting large numbers of students from other places. Augusta State University must do its work for this community."
Building dormitories and providing housing in the future aren't viable options to attract more students, University President Bill Bloodworth said.
"I think that there are potentially plenty of students for our school in this community," Dr. Bloodworth said. "Some of them were not getting to us. And many of them aren't getting out of high school."
ASU's student body has been shrinking since 1997, the year the University System of Georgia admission requirements were strengthened. Each fall, the school has lost at least 100 students, and from 1999 to 2000 enrollment dropped from 5,405 to 5,092.
Mr. Walker said the reason for the decreasing enrollment problem is not in Augusta.
"That comes from narrowing and increasing the admission standards which excludes certain groups from participation," he said.
"It's a board of regents problem, and we must address that issue," Mr. Walker said.
He said there are other factors that should be considered, including the low college attainment level in the area.
The percentage of the city's population that is college educated is lower than that of the state.
Mr. Walker said 21.7 percent of Augusta's white population have college degrees and 9.8 percent of the black community have bachelor's degrees or higher.
"Education can close the gap between people," Mr. Walker said. "While education is the great equalizer in our society, it is not equally (accessible). Education can close gaps in wealth.
"Our people have to understand that education is important. Our people must tell our children to choose computers over Nike sneakers and to choose scanners over Tommy Hilfiger shirts."
Reach Clarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851.