Enrollment down at Georgia colleges — why? what next?

From the AJC’s Concern over enrollment drop at Georgia colleges:

More than half the schools in the University System of Georgia are teaching fewer students this fall than last year, according to preliminary data provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Final figures are not expected until next month, but early data shows the system reversing more than a decade of record-setting enrollment. The drop couldn’t come at a more challenging time.

Georgia colleges are grappling with another round of state budget cuts — $54 million this year and $54 million next year — because of the struggling economy. In the past schools used additional tuition revenue from higher enrollments to soften the cuts. That’s not an option for many campuses this year.

That could force colleges to eliminate more positions.

Full disclosure: I’m a fulltime instructor (no Ph.D., non-tenure track) at Armstrong Atlantic State University.

Before reading the AJC article, you should scroll to the bottom and check out the preliminary data for all the USG institutions. Armstrong is down only 1.1%, and it’s possible that preliminary data could be revised upward so that enrollment is virtually identical to last year.

But there have been some huge moves at other institutions.

Preliminary data shows declines of more than 5% at Albany, Fort Valley, Atlanta Metropolitan, Coastal Georgia, Dalton, East Georgia, Georgia Perimeter, Gordon, Middle Georgia, and Bainbridge.

Enrollment increases of more than 5% have occurred only at North Georgia, Southern Polytechnic, and Georgia Gwinnett.

Three main reasons for the declines are cited in the article: 1) the weak economy, 2) reduced aid, grants, and scholarships, and 3) tougher admissions standards.

The 13.1% drop in enrollment at Georgia Perimeter (likely to be revised so that the drop is not so extreme) seems to be largely because of tougher admission standards. But the precise causes of the statewide declines are little murky — and likely vary significantly from institution to institution.

And here’s another possible reason for some portion of this year’s decline: an improving economy.

The national labor force participation rate actually ticked up a little last month and seems likely to increase slightly over the next couple of years if the economy stays out of recession. (The participation rate will certainly decline because of demographic changes over the longterm, however — an issue I discussed on my own blog earlier this week.) For most of the past five years, it was almost a given that high school graduates would struggle to find meaningful work, which meant that some opted for college who might have gone to work under normal economic conditions. We also saw laid off older workers decide to return to college.

That’s just a working hypothesis, and I’ll admit it’s not well-supported by the most recent employment estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And I certainly don’t mean to detract from the simple fact that many struggling Georgia citizens and their families can’t afford college. Tuition in Georgia might be a bargain compared to some other states, but it’s not a bargain for potential students who don’t have the cash, credit, or aid to cover the myriad costs.

How will leaders of the state’s colleges respond? Will the USG be forced to raise tuition?

It’s too early to be certain of anything. College presidents were already working under the assumption of further funding cuts, so maybe the state’s colleges can delay any drastic moves.

But even if we get through this year with minimal impact on students, we’re faced with tight state budgets for the foreseeable future. HOPE will be under more and more pressure. The state’s weak jobs recovery will make things even harder for many Georgians.

4 comments

  1. Daddy Got A Gun says:

    Its pretty simple. Going to college is no longer a good economic decision and in fact is now a very bad economic decision. Colleges are too expensive and kids are coming out are loaded down with debt paying for an impractical education steeped in liberal ideology. This is going to harm America’s long term future. For example, how is a kid going to buy his first house or a new car if he already has $100K+ in debt and working as a waiter?

    The Board of Regents has built a Taj Mahal, expensive and not practical. They spend our money on frills like “Diversity Counselors” and luxurious dorms. The system is bloated with bureaucrats and an entitled class of employees. The system sucks the wallets of students dry, not only with tuition hikes but the fees for the parking, activity center, sports, etc.

    Personally, I think the Legislature should immediately reduce funding of the Board of Regents and send the funding to a competitive entity. Perhaps work with Wisconsin and Texas to develop an internet based model with much much lower cost. Here is an explanation of the model Wisconsin is heading toward: http://blog.heritage.org/2012/07/05/morning-bell-governor-walker-breaks-new-ground-in-higher-ed/

    Along with funding a competitive entity, the Legislature should send some of the freed up money to vocation tech facilities that teach trades. That would help the kids who aren’t able to go to universities.

  2. John Konop says:

    Bill,

    This is why I have been pushing merging high school with colleges and vo-tech schools. Also adding the flexibility of on line education to the formula. By sharing resources ie buildings, facultiy, administration……..we could lower the cost and increase quality. By creating more flexibility via online classes, students could work and or co-op/intern in their field of study gaining experience and or money needed to stay in school.

    We need to change the focus of education from teaching to a test, one size fit all system that ranks the schools on a score. Instead we should measure a school system on graduation rate with marketable job skills or entrance into a 4 year college. We need to creat flexibility and options at the most efficient manner, while delivering quality.

  3. saltycracker says:

    What next ?
    The final answer will be what it always is “we need to throw more taxpayer money at education because (fill in blank).”

  4. jpmsouth says:

    One of the elephants in the room is the impact of HB 87 AND the State forcing the University System to follow State law regarding illegal aliens graduating from Georgia schools. Obviously, the revision to HOPE also weeds the enrollments.
    Anyone have any data on GI’s taking advantage of deserved education benefits in Georgia? One would think we would see an uptick through our veterans. Military enlistments were heavy in rural Georgia, but the big downturns in enrollment also coincides with rural Georgia where unemployment is far worse.

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