GHC’s unofficial enrollment last week was 5,230, which is just barely above last fall’s enrollment of 5,220. A flat year on the enrollment front breaks a years-long trend of significant growth, and Pierce says at least part of the problem is a lack of space — the Marietta and Cartersville campuses are both at capacity.
“If someone lives in the Marietta area and they can’t get classes there, they may simply not go to college,” said Pierce.
A new student center is planned in Cartersville, the college’s most populous campus, and a second academic building is on the Board of Regents funding plans for fiscal year 2012, so potentially two new buildings might be added there within the next couple of years.
However, given recent state budgeting trends, the Regents could elect to push funding for that building to another year, a move they’ve already made once before.
However, ground could be broken on the 50,000-square-foot student center as early late May or early June 2011, said Pierce. A designer should be named within a couple weeks and a construction company picked soon after that. That building will serve as a multipurpose space, and could potentially include office and class space.
Highland’s two other satellite campuses in Douglas and Paulding counties will eventually add to the enrollment numbers. Classes are already under way at both locations, but those sites just haven’t spun into full gear yet.
“Douglasville and Paulding are both going to help, but in terms of the number of students, they’re just not there yet,” said Pierce.
Capacity is just one of four issues GHC officials are busy analyzing right now in regard to enroll-
ment numbers. The second issue is marketing and recruiting, and Pierce said he wants to make sure officials are doing everything they can to promote the college and attract students.
Next on the list is retention — 53 percent of students who attended GHC last fall aren’t enrolled at the college this fall. A lot of those are transfers, but Pierce said his goal is to make sure students aren’t simply dropping out.
The last major issue is the financial aid process, something the college president called “complex” and “cumbersome.” There were about 500 students accepted and enrolled at Highlands this fall who did not pay their bill and were therefore dropped. Meanwhile, a full 80 percent of Highlands rely on financial aid. Pierce fears many of those 500 students didn’t complete the financial aid process in time, and he’d like to see if there are ways to make the process easier for students.
The good news is college officials planned for a flat year, budgeting the same way this year as they did last year. And while state appropriations are based on enrollments, GHC is secure for this year and no adjustments will be required.
“So, from a budget standpoint, we’re set, and enrollment isn’t going to affect the budget,” said Pierce.
Following the trend
The Georgia Board of Regents won’t finalize enrollment numbers for state institutions until late this semester, but spokesman John Millsaps said that Highlands’ steady enrollment numbers are not completely unique right now. Statewide, growth has been strong the past few years, but this year he suspects the trend might taper as some smaller colleges are seeing flat growth.
Overall, USG enrollment should have a good year, he said, but a lot of colleges are hitting snags in their numbers because of space and financial aid concerns. He pointed out that Georgia has one of the highest rates in terms of the percentage of high school graduates who pursue post secondary education, and with the economy still suffering a lot of nontraditional students are heading back to college.
“That illustrates the issues we have. We have a high demand but we struggle to meet that demand,” said Millsaps.