Fewer students are going to college across the country, and the University of North Georgia is no exception in seeing dropping attendance.
The university is part of a national trend that has seen a 5% decline in enrollment over the past two-and-a-half years, about 1 million students, according to the National Clearinghouse Research Center.
UNG has fared slightly better, with a 3.8% drop in total enrollment, from 19,748 students in fall 2019 to 18,985 in fall 2021. It is due primarily to a smaller pool of students pursuing associate degrees, according to data provided by UNG.
The number of students pursuing an associate degree has plummeted by well over a third in the same period, from 6,458 to 4057
Chaudron Gille, provost and vice president for academic affairs, blamed the coronavirus pandemic and a strong job market for the decline.
“A lot of the students that would traditionally pursue an associate's degree may also be working,” she said. “Many of them are non-traditional students and first-generation college students. And right now the job market is so strong ... some of them are making the decision to opt out and work for a while because they can make good money.”
Bachelor and graduate degree enrollment, on the other hand, has grown. Bachelor enrollment increased by 12% from 12,578 to 14,098, and graduate enrollment rose by nearly 17% from 712 to 830.
But the overall drop in enrollment may mean less money in the long term for universities like UNG.
“We don't have a cut in our formula this year due to enrollment declines,” she said. “But like the majority of the institutions, I think 20 out of 26 institutions in the University System of Georgia have seen enrollment declines because of COVID. And so those enrollment declines will affect (fiscal year) ‘24.”
How much will they affect the budget? A projected $12 million over the next few years, she said.
But Gille added that the bulk of UNG’s budget cuts are due to the cuts instituted by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019, which saw funding for USG slashed by 10%. She said they have deferred those cuts until now by using federal coronavirus relief money, but they will eventually have to make the cuts permanent if the budget isn’t restored. She noted that Kemp restored funds for K-12 schools but not universities, though she remains optimistic.
“Perhaps in the future here, there'd be some restoration in the budget cut,” she said. “We have to plan for the future based on what we know right now. There may be additional support for higher ed — if you’ve got 20 out of 26 institutions who are facing this, there may be something else that comes forward in the future that helps address this so I can't know that.”
She said they are not cutting programs or laying off employees.
“We’re not talking about the kind of draconian cuts that you may hear of at other institutions across the country,” she said. “We're not eliminating any positions that are needed to meet our instructional mission.”
“UNG is very stable, very strong,” she said, adding that they have made up for some of the cuts with grants, fundraising and industry partnerships.
She said UNG has cut budgets for travel, operations and renovations. In concrete terms, that may mean holding meetings virtually or delaying computer upgrades. Additionally, they may choose not to fill vacant positions if the demand for an academic program is low.
“If I have four faculty members who retire, I might replace two of them right now if there’s not the demand for the courses,” she said. When asked if that may increase the workload for teachers who are left to pick up the slack, she said no. “If the demand for the courses is there, I'm going to fill the job.”