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UNG celebrates 150th anniversary as it prepares for changing leadership, budget
0817 2022 UNG
University of North Georgia President Bonita Jacobs recently spoke at the school's 150-year anniversary celebration. (Photo provided by UNG)

The University of North Georgia celebrated its 150-year anniversary Friday, Aug. 12, with its annual State of the University address given by outgoing President Bonita Jacobs, who is stepping down in June 2023. 

The anniversary comes as UNG faces a shrinking budget, declining student enrollment and the possibility of faculty layoffs. UNG officials said faculty will be notified by Aug. 31. 

UNG is bracing for a loss of $5 million in state funding next year due to a decline in student enrollment, which fell by just over 3% from fall 2020 to fall 2021. UNG enrolls about 19,000 students. 

The university is preparing to absorb that blow partly by cutting 20-25 positions, though that includes leaving some of UNG’s 150 vacancies unfilled.

Even so, Jacobs said UNG is well-positioned for the future, the university said in a news release Friday. She noted that the number of donors to UNG grew more than 15% last year, and new gifts and commitments to the UNG Foundation this year will total more than $23 million.

UNG began in 1873 as North Georgia Agricultural College, and its students included 98 men and 79 women that first year. It was the first public college in Georgia to grant a bachelor's degree to a woman. UNG was created through the consolidation of Gainesville State College and North Georgia College and State University in 2013.

UNG is now one of Georgia’s largest universities, with five campuses and about 19,000 students. Later this fall, UNG will break ground for new buildings at its Blue Ridge and Cumming campuses. In September, it will open the Cottrell Center for Business, Technology & Innovation on the Dahlonega Campus. 

"In the 150 years since our founding, we have changed names and consolidated institutions, but our commitments to quality, affordable education and leadership development opportunities remain unchanged,” Jacobs said. 

Jacobs also highlighted the role UNG plays in educating lower-income students. 

“We know that higher levels of educational attainment lead to higher lifetime earnings potential and healthier communities," she said. "In fact, a recent report showed that UNG is among the top 20% of universities in the nation for economic mobility, an indicator of how well we serve low- and moderate-income students. Key elements of this success are our affordability, the low amount of student borrowing to pay for college and getting students to graduation on target and on time."

UNG's annual economic impact on the region climbed to a record $755 million in 2021. In addition, research expenditures, the national standard for measuring research activity, will likely surpass $2.23 million this year — a 36% increase over 2016. 

The university will celebrate the 150th anniversary with annual events such as Starlight at the Gainesville Campus, Gold Rush Days alumni gatherings, Parent-Alumni Weekend, the Scholarship Gala, Oconeefest and the Blue Ridge Tomato Sandwich Supper.