ATLANTA -- The chancellor of the University System of Georgia says overall enrollment was up last fall, but it’s not evenly spread among Georgia’s public colleges and universities.
At a budget presentation this week, University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby called out 15 schools for slipping student populations, including Fort Valley State University and Middle Georgia State College.
Both institutions say they’re well aware of the challenge and are stepping up new offerings ranging from Greek life to international recruitment.
“Quite frankly, the competition for students is so fierce we have grave concerns about to what extent many of these schools can recover their enrollment,” Huckaby said during a state House-Senate hearing this week. “I believe the time has come for a new approach.”
Fort Valley’s enrollment fell by about one-third between fall 2011 and fall 2014, from nearly 3,900 students to about 2,600.
Middle Georgia State is not quite a quarter smaller than Macon State College and Middle Georgia College were before they consolidated. In fall 2009, both Macon State and Middle Georgia College had a combined 10,200 students. Now, the post-consolidation Middle Georgia State College had about 8,000 students in fall 2014.
What Huckaby seeks is not just numbers of students, but students who turn into graduates. He’s pushing to tie school funding less to enrollment and more to performance.
FORT VALLEY STATE TO PARTNER WITH TECH AND TWO-YEAR SCHOOLS
Performance-based funding is new to Georgia but is not new across the United States, said Fort Valley State University President Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith.
He supports Georgia’s move toward that, and he supports colleges doing more to increase graduation rates, retention and student readiness for professions or graduate school.
“Where we are is not acceptable to me. It is not acceptable to the system. It is not acceptable to the citizens and taxpayers of Georgia,” Griffith said.
He laid out a half-dozen improvement points complete with examples, from study trips abroad to new rules about students getting advisement on campus.
On the recruitment side, there’s a conscious effort to build what he called “pipelines,” which are agreements with technical schools and two-year colleges that allow students to more easily transfer their full credits to Fort Valley State University to complete a bachelor’s degree.
So far, the university has inked deals with Central Georgia Technical College and Georgia Military College. Meanwhile, talks are underway with Albany Technical College.
Griffith also is working to recruit students abroad. Barbados recently added tuition fees to their universities, leading students there to start to shop around since they must now pay for school anyway. A recent recruitment trip to Barbados has netted 14 Fort Valley State applications that at least meet minimum standards, Griffith said. And international students come with checkbooks in hand.
As for retention, Griffith said too many students were arriving on campus who were not adequately prepared for college. That set them up, he said, for failure and early departure.
“We were taking students, and they were dropping out,” he said.
Fort Valley State increased admission requirements, he said. But also, rather than turn away serious students who fall just under school standards, the university will soon ramp up its five-week, on-campus intensive prep program.
Of the 28 students who finished the pilot, 27 enrolled in the university for spring 2015, Griffith said.
Additionally, all students will work with advisers through their junior year, whether they want to or not. That’s what he terms “intrusive” advising.
“Sometimes you’ve got to have the opportunity to save a freshman student from himself,” especially as some students are either ill-served by high schools or are first-generation college students, Griffith said.
Fort Valley State will get back to 4,000 students, Griffith said, but “we’ve got to focus not only on getting them in, but keeping them in.”
MIDDLE GEORGIA STATE SETS ENROLLMENT BAR FOR END OF DECADE
Middle Georgia State College aims to return to about 10,000 students in five to six years’ time.
Middle Georgia’s enrollment fell for several reasons, said Sheri Rowland, the school’s vice president for enrollment.
“We’ve had an increase in academic standards,” she said, both to meet Regents’ expectations and to position the college to one day add graduate classes and ask for state permission to become a university.
Enrollment also fell when the economy slipped into recession in recent years, she said.
Meanwhile, increased cooperation with two-year colleges and technical schools means it’s easier for students to get the first part of their education elsewhere rather than join Middle Georgia’s rolls for four full years.
“We are looking at a wide range of new recruitment strategies ... to change that pattern of decline,” she said. One is appealing to adults with evening classes, and Middle Georgia State recruiters also are fanning out past the 18 counties in its service area to places such as Savannah and metro Atlanta.
Rowland said there is student demand for what they offer both in and out of class.
“We provide quality education at a great price,” she said. “I’m going to say it’s the best bang for your buck. ... We have small class sizes. We have extracurricular activities. We have four-year athletics. We are engaged with inviting Greek fraternities and sororities to our campus starting fall 2015.”
Applications for fall 2015, she said, are higher this month than they were at the same time in the last application cycle.
Gov. Nathan Deal proposes spending some $2 billion on the university system in the year beginning in July. The state Legislature is set to decide on that budget in the next couple of months.
To contact Maggie Lee, email email@example.com.