Originally created 01/26/03

Georgia's colleges log growth in enrollment



As dean of students at Augusta State University, Joyce Jones didn't count on spending time in classrooms.

But that was before more students began to fill them.

Dr. Jones, who is teaching psychology this semester, is just one of many administrators going back to class.

"This year's enrollment numbers are the highest the university has seen since 1995, when we were on the quarter system," said Katherine Sweeney, the university's registrar and director of admissions.

Augusta State currently has 5,909 students, up 9 percent from fall 2001.

But it isn't the only institution with soaring numbers.

One year after completing the phase-in of higher admissions standards, the University System of Georgia is able to affirm record numbers of students enrolling at its 34 institutions. Retention rates are higher, and the students are academically stronger.

So what has caused the sudden increase in higher education enrollment?

Some educators attribute the sharp rise in enrollment to the nation's current economic state.

"Typically when the economy lags, enrollment numbers increase," Ms. Sweeney said. "People return to school to better themselves, which could help them get a better job."

The system's enrollment is 233,098, up 7.1 percent from fall 2001's total of 217,546. Its full-time enrollment increased by 13,950, or 8.2 percent.

Jackie Stewart, the director of institutional research at Augusta State, said her school's enrollment growth has exceeded the statewide average of similar colleges for the past two years. Augusta State had a 6 percent enrollment increase in 2001, compared with the overall system's increase of 2.9 percent.

She said the overall system, including Augusta State, experienced a decline in 1998, and both had 1 percent increases in 1999. In 2000, the overall system had a 0.7 increase, while Augusta State experienced a 5.8 percent decrease, she said.

Mrs. Stewart said Augusta State officials aren't sure why enrollment dropped so disproportionately that year.

Enrollment at the Medical College of Georgia is up 3.2 percent to 2,453 students from 2,377 in fall 2001.

"We have worked very hard during our enrollment management to enhance our applicant pool," said Barry Goldstein, provost at the Medical College of Georgia.

University System of Georgia Chancellor Thomas C. Meredith said last week that the increases represented the number of new students entering the system and record retention rates.

Augusta State continues to attract a large nontraditional student population, but more traditional students are also choosing to stay.

University officials also cite the ongoing construction as a factor in rising enrollment. The university, former site of the Augusta Arsenal, has often been criticized for its out-of-date buildings.

Ms. Sweeney said that, although the university wants to attract more students, it's important to maintain the environment that Augusta State officials have worked so hard to cultivate.

"We don't want to lose what we have," she said. "We have a close interaction between faculty and students. The size of our university allows that kind of closeness, and we definitely want to preserve that."

RISING ENROLLMENT

Term -- Augusta State -- Medical College of Georgia

Fall 2001 -- 5,407 -- 2,377

Current -- 5,909 -- 2,453

Staff Writer Preston Sparks contributed to this article.

Reach Ashlee Griggs at (706) 823-3552, or ashlee.griggs@augustachronicle.com.