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Piedmont College biggest ever freshman class starts
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Members of the Class of 2013 gathered in Alumni Park at Piedmont College in Demorest for the start of the new school year. Piedmont has seen record enrollment this year at both the Demorest and Athens campuses, and the freshman class is the largest ever with 460 students. - photo by SANDI TATUM

Piedmont College officials are thrilled to start this fall with the largest freshman class the small, liberal arts school has ever had, building on a 15-year trend of growth.

Classes started Thursday with a freshman class of 460 students, topping last year’s total enrollment by 188, according to Piedmont Director of Public Relations David Price. The total number of students now attending the college is 2,828 at both the Demorest and Athens campuses.

“Basically, our enrollment has been increasing fairly steadily since about 1994,” Price said. In 1994, the college’s total enrollment was 836.

While a record number of students — 460 — will be living on campus in Demorest this year, Price said many new Piedmont students are transfers. That’s a trend that’s reversed from what it was 15 years ago, when Piedmont students transferred to other institutions.

“We’re really happy,” Price said of the school’s growth. “And the faculty are really key to keeping the students here.”

Price said new students have been drawn to the school by its steady growth — new buildings, new programs and expansions. New academic buildings, athletic facilities and dorms have been added at Piedmont’s Demorest campus. The Athens campus moved into a larger Prince Street facility two years ago and began accepting freshmen and sophomores last year, Price said. A doctoral program in education has been added at both campuses, he said.

The college’s cohort program, which offers master’s and education specialist degrees for teachers at locations across Northeast Georgia, increased from 974 to 984 students this year, Price said.

Piedmont isn’t finished building for the future, Price said. A new amphitheater is set to open in October and another new dorm is on the drawing board.

Other colleges in the area are reporting similar increases in enrollment as the fall semester gets cranked up.

While registration continues through Wednesday’s first day of classes at North Georgia College and State University, Director of University Relations Kate Maine expects freshman enrollment to be about 1,230 students. That would put the overall enrollment between 5,637 to 5,665 students, she said.

Gainesville State College, which started classes Monday, projects about a 9 percent increase over last year’s 8,234 students, according to Sloan W. Jones, the school’s director of public relations and marketing. Final figures will not be available until next week.

“Gainesville State College is looking at another record-breaking enrollment this year,” she said via e-mail.

Brenau University is expecting about a 6 percent increase in overall enrollment when classes start next week at the private college in Gainesville, according to David Morrison, assistant vice president for communications and publications at the school. The enrollment for the Women’s College is expected to be about the same as last year with a new freshman class of about 170, he said.

“It’s very significant, I think, that we’re getting a lot of growth from adult or non-traditional aged students and a lot of it is related to the economy, people looking for better credentials in the job market,” Morrison said. “Very significantly we’ve got a 31 percent jump in online. ... It’s very significant that we’re holding our own and growing in the areas that we plan to be growing.”

Morrison explained that Brenau aims for increasing enrollment in the online and weekend colleges, but probably will look at capping the women’s college enrollment in the future.

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