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North Georgia college making classes bigger
Officials cut expenses while considering growth in enrollment
Students at North Georgia College & State University take notes and listen during a Monday afternoon environmental science class at the school’s health and natural science building.

North Georgia College & State University is expanding core class sizes and reducing energy costs to save money during a tight budget year.

Despite a reduction in state appropriations for school building renovations, the school continues to make classroom and housing preparations to grow enrollment by 2,100 students during the next 10 years.

Linda Roberts-Betsch, vice president for academic affairs at North Georgia, said the Dahlonega school has adopted new class size minimums that put about 10 to 15 more students in required classes for freshmen and sophomores.

Roberts-Betsch said North Georgia’s core curriculum class sizes typically had about 25 to 30 students in recent years. But this semester, the school has new guidelines that place at least 40 students in a required core class. She said some courses that require individual attention for students, such as writing, mathematics and foreign language, are exempt from the new guidelines.

"We’re all in a budget crunch," she said. "In addition to that, we’ve been struggling with having enough classes for our students taking core curriculum classes. And so you combine the budget situation with the fact that we need more classes for our students, it just seemed to be the most logical direction to go in."

The move will create class space for about 1,800 students who were previously unable to enroll in core classes. Roberts-Betsch said the new guidelines will prevent the school from having to hire 20 additional part-time faculty members, saving $45,000.

Roberts-Betsch said the biggest perk of expanding class sizes for freshmen and sophomores is that it will increase the number of students at North Georgia who will be able to graduate in four years. She said the state has a "fixed for four" tuition guarantee that promises college students fixed tuition for four years only.

"I feel like it’s a responsibility of (ours) to try to do everything we can to provide the courses that will meet the students’ needs so they can graduate here in a timely manner and not spend their fifth year here at a higher cost," she said.

Although Roberts-Betsch said the school still is committed to maintaining small class sizes, the guidelines for slightly larger class sizes will help the school meet its goal of increasing enrollment from 5,400 students to 7,500 students within 10 years.

Jeff Davis, associate vice president for facilities at North Georgia, said the school also plans to break ground on two new dorms this summer to prepare for enrollment growth.

Davis said the dorms should be completed by fall 2010 and will house about 1,000 new students. He said a new military dorm will be built near the school’s existing military dorms, and a new civilian dorm is slated for the west side of the campus near the natural science building.

Davis said the school had planned to renovate Young Hall to build more classroom space using state funds. But the legislature approved $10.4 million instead of $16.4 million to fund renovations at school. He said he hopes the state will restore some of that funding in upcoming years to finance classroom additions to Young Hall.

The appropriated state funds will be used to renovate Barnes, Stewart and Hoag halls, which Davis said are in dire need of remodeling. The renovations will revamp administrative offices, the school’s student success center and expand a student meeting space.

Davis also said the school has reduced energy costs enough during nights and weekends to save an estimated $270,000 this year.

The school also will implement a four-day school week for summer school, which runs from May 11 to Aug. 1. Davis said the four-day school week will let the school reduce utility costs on Fridays, when the school will be closed, except for the admissions and registrar’s offices. The shortened summer school program will save $30,000, he said.

"Keep in mind that savings is likely to be offset through rate increases, but it will effectively allow us to absorb rate increases and an increased load from some of our newer buildings," Davis said.

Last fall, North Georgia opened a new recreation center and a new library.