Rachel Smith beamed with wonderment while unpacking belongings in her dorm for her first year at Wesleyan College.
Her father, Rod, smiled through the heat, using a handcart to get a new mini-fridge to her room.
“We’re just hoping to get her in and get out of here,” he said with a chuckle.
College campuses are coming back to life across Middle Georgia as students return for fall semester or find their way in new surroundings. Classes begin next week at several colleges, and some schools will have new programs and record enrollments.
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At Wesleyan, move-in day Wednesday was bustling, a mix at times of excitement, pride and anxiety.
“Today is very busy,” said Sydney Davis, a Wesleyan senior. “Right now, I’m helping parents, guiding them where to park, where to check in.”
Davis, an orientation leader, said her job sometimes consisted of helping clingy parents detach.
The college’s enrollment is about 760 students this year, a 5 percent increase since last year, said Steve Farr, vice president for enrollment services.
“It reflects the hard work of our faculty and staff,” he said. “And the recognition of an incredible academic program that’s highly respected.”
Some of those programs include a “global scholarship” -- offered to domestic students looking to pursue an international-focused career -- that provides full tuition and up to a $3,500 stipend for a study-abroad experience and a new dual-degree program with Ghuangzhou University in China.
“We have a Confucius Institute, we have an American Cultural Center with them,” Farr said. “So we were approached about the possibility of doing a dual-degree program in business, economics and psychology.”
Chinese college officials want Wesleyan to educate the next generation of Soong Ching-lings, he said.
Ching-ling, a Wesleyan alumna, was one of the first women from China to come to America to study. She later married Sun Yat-sen, China’s leader during the 1911 revolution. Ching-ling, often referred to as Madame Sun Yat-sen, was considered the “mother of modern China.”
Because of its mission, special programs and initiatives, Farr described Wesleyan as the “crown jewel” of Middle Georgia.
“You bring together 600 of the best and brightest women from throughout the United States -- and the world -- and you bring them together in one spot, something magical happens,” he said.
MIDDLE GEORGIA STATE EMBRACING NEW STATUS
On July 1, Middle Georgia State became the newest university in the state’s university system.
New traditions and initiatives have begun as a result, said Raymond Carnley, vice president of university advancement.
“We’re going to be doing homecoming this fall,” he said. “And that will be the first time as a university, as a consolidated institution, that we will have had homecoming where we bring students and faculty and community people, but also our alumni, back to campus.”
Homecoming will run from Sept. 9-12, Carnley said. That Saturday morning, there will be an air show at the school of aviation on the Eastman campus, followed by a festival that evening.
Another new event for MGSU will be a freshmen convocation.
In June, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools denied Middle Georgia State’s bid to offer a new Master of Information Technology program, but the university expects to offer the program this spring after its next SACS application is submitted in September.
Carnley said he didn’t have enrollment totals because the numbers are in flux.
“We’re seeing very good numbers,” he said. “At this point, compared to where we were last year, we’re slightly up.”
MERCER UNIVERSITY ADDS UNDERGRAD OPTIONS
More than 8,700 students will start classes this fall across all of Mercer University’s campuses in Macon, Atlanta, Savannah and Columbus. That’s up from 8,550 last year, and it includes another record freshman class.
“A lot of that increase is coming from undergraduate enrollment on the Macon campus, which has been growing steadily over the last four or five years,” said Larry Brumley, Mercer’s senior vice president for marketing communications. “We’re expecting an incoming freshman class of about 840 students.”
While many of Mercer’s undergraduates and law school students have already returned to campus, Saturday is the official move-in day for freshmen.
By midafternoon, there will be a program in Hawkins Arena, where all students are welcome to hear the president speak.
“And that is kind of the beginning of us nudging the parents out to let their students adapt to college life,” he said.
Mercer also has added a few new study programs to its college life options, including a new undergraduate neuroscience and criminal justice major, as well as a master’s in business analytics and clinical health psychology.
The freshman class is a record in numbers and also academics, Brumley said.
“Not only is it a record in terms of head count, but the academic credentials of this entering freshmen class are the strongest we’ve ever had,” he said. This years’ freshmen had an average GPA of 3.82 and an average SAT score of 1210.
FVSU AIMS FOR MORE STUDENTS
Officials at Fort Valley State University say they have been working hard to increase enrollment this year, but they don’t have final numbers yet.
School starts Monday, but FVSU spokeswoman Pamela Berry-Johnson said she did not have a figure on the final tally because enrollment continues. Students will be able to enroll next week as well, she said, but will have to pay a late fee.
She said she is “cautiously optimistic” that enrollment will up from the 2,594 students enrolled last year. The school has been aggressively recruiting students to try to get enrollment numbers back up, she said. Alumni also have been involved.
“We have left no stone unturned,” she said. “It’s been a full-court press for everyone.”
This is Welcome Week at the school.
FVSU has an interim president, Jessica Bailey, following the resignation of Ivelaw Griffith at the end of the last academic year. Bailey likely will serve in that role for most or all of the coming school year, Berry-Johnson said. The Board of Regents is in charge of the search for a permanent president.
New programs offered this year include minors in cyber security, applied statistics, theater, gerontology and chemistry.
One notable addition to the faculty is Jonathan Thompson, the director of bands. Band camp ends Sunday.
GEORGIA COLLEGE TARGETING EDUCATION CAREERS
Georgia College classes start Monday, and students began moving in Thursday.
The freshman class is 1,488 students, with total enrollment in the school, including graduate programs, at 6,918, said Brittiny Johnson, the school’s manager of media relations. That’s up from 6,775 a year ago.
This will be the first quarter for the school’s new Call Me MISTER program, which is for minority students interested in a career in education.
MISTER stands for Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models. Georgia College is the first in the state to implement it. It is focused on black males, who make up less than 2 percent of the nation’s elementary school teachers, according to Johnson. Benefits of the program include financial assistance, intensive instruction and mentoring.
One of those in the program is Brian Bowman, who graduated from Jones County High School this year. Before he found out about the program, he already planned to attend Georgia College to pursue an education degree because he had a lot of good teachers who attended there.
Bowman wants to teach elementary school.
“It’s where I feel like I can have the most impact on students,” he said.
Bowman said he is looking forward to starting school Monday.
“I’m excited about becoming a Bobcat,” he said.
CENTRAL GEORGIA TECH BEGINS NEW PROGRAM
The Move on When Ready program is part dual enrollment, part technical certification training -- and all opportunity. A highly motivated student could earn an associate degree while still in high school for free.
“There is no cost to the student’s family, and the hours will not impact the HOPE (funding) cap,” said Janet Kelly, CGTC’s assistant vice president for marketing and public relations. “We have already seen increases in our high school dual credit enrollment and look for even more students to take advantage of these new opportunities during the semester.”
CGTC’s enrollment last fall was 7,663 students, and Kelly expects the college will surpass that number this fall when final numbers are in.
“Registration is ongoing, so we can’t pinpoint an exact number right now as we have a couple more days before classes start on Aug. 17,” she said.
The college, Kelly said, has added a handful of other new programs such as: barbering at the Milledgeville campus, an associate degree in engineering technology for both the Macon and Warner Robins campuses, and a specialized nursing assistant training program, also in Milledgeville.
Additionally, the college will begin offering courses at the Peach County Workforce Development Center during fall semester. The adult education program in Peach County also will relocate to this new facility.
GMC GROWING IN WARNER ROBINS
Georgia Military College, a two-year school, will start its fall term Aug. 31 with a projected enrollment of about 1,500 students at its historic Milledgeville campus.
The school’s Warner Robins campus is nearly as large, with 1,400 students enrolled. Both campuses have significant new programs this year, offering associate degrees in computer science and cyber security.
The Warner Robins campus, located on North Davis Drive, started classes Aug. 1. The GMC presence in the community began in 1989 with a few students on Robins Air Force Base, and it has quietly grown into a significant part of the community after moving off base.
Ted Ramsdell, executive director of the Warner Robins campus, said the campus employs 135 people full and part time. Enrollment has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
Two students enrolled in the Warner Robins campus this year are Britney Martin and Rudy Mosley, both biology majors and both in their second year.
Martin, a Northside High School graduate, originally attended Valdosta State University but found college life difficult. She has done much better since she moved back home and enrolled at GMC. She credited her improvement in part to classes GMC offers that teach students how to succeed in college.
“Every school should have that,” she said. “It really helped me.”
Mosley, from Nashville, Tennessee, enrolled after moving to Warner Robins with his family.
“Everyone here is friendly, and teachers are willing to work with you,” he said.