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Private colleges see enrollment numbers drop
Economys pinch affects areas smaller schools
Work-study students Jenny Niu, left, a freshman, and Savannah Riddle, a junior, stuff welcome envelopes Thursday in the admissions office at Brenau University. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

As many public colleges and universities anticipate an autumn with record high enrollment, local private institutions are keeping an eye on their enrollment figures, which are running slightly behind last year's.

Andrew Gailey, director of admissions for Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, said while there's still a month left before fall registration closes, the college likely won't meet last year's fall enrollment number of 258 students.

"You go, ‘OK, we've got to hit this number,' and for private schools, that's a big deal because the majority of schools are tuition-driven, so numbers matter," Gailey said.

Enrollment for the women's college at Brenau University in Gainesville is about 3 percent behind last year's, said Brenau University Dean of Admissions Scott Briell.

And enrollment for Young Harris College in Young Harris also is down slightly compared to last year, said Matthew Mashburn, Young Harris' associate director of admissions.

Gailey said 78 students are now enrolled for classes at Truett-McConnell this fall compared to last July's 82 students. The private Baptist college's enrollment goal for this fall is 180 students, he said.

"We're tracking the same, but you never know until they walk through the door. That's the reality of it. You just don't know," he said. "... But staying on track is not your goal, obviously - your goal is to have more. It will be interesting as we go throughout the rest of the time to see how it plays out. But I'm not as discouraged as one might be."

Tuition, room and board at Truett-McConnell runs about $13,500, the same as last year, Gailey said.

Briell said enrollment numbers at Brenau's women's college are running 20 students behind last July's 785 students, but online enrollment and graduate program enrollment are up.

"And we're thinking with the economy and so forth, and we didn't really make any adjustments to scholarships ... but we're going to be a little down this year," he said of the women's college.

Though Young Harris College may not meet last fall's record high enrollment of 406 students, Mashburn said the college is set to meet its goal of 350 students.

"We didn't really expect a record enrollment with the economy," he said. "... Even though we will be lower than 406 this year, we don't look at it as a drop for Young Harris, because we kind of got what we were shooting for."

With tuition, room and board hovering around $26,000 this fall, Mashburn said Young Harris is becoming a more attractive option for college students because it will offer bachelor's degrees this year.

"This fall, we'll have our first junior class of over 50 students and a brand new residence hall," he said. "And we're working on a new recreation complex, so things are growing here at Young Harris."

The college added four-year English, music, biology and business and public policy degrees this year and plans to expand its bachelor's degree offerings each year.

Lagging enrollment during the summer doesn't have admissions directors too worried, though. There's still about a month before class starts at area private colleges.

Gailey said it seems students are taking more time to feel out the economy and decide which college best suits their financial means. He said students seem extra hesitant to drop their dollars this year and Truett-McConnell is definitely seeing more students in need of financial aid.

"We're trying to respond to parents who are having a hardship and have lost a job," Gailey said. "We're trying to set aside some money and help people get through those hard times. I think in our school, we've had to be proactive in this area. Schools are having to be on top of that, especially private schools."

Gailey, as well as Briell, encourages prospective students to not be deterred by private school's "sticker price" and sit down with college admissions representatives to see how much financial aid they can secure.

"That's the reality of it," Gailey said. "I think a lot of people hear that number and then just turn it off and say, ‘Oh, we can't afford that. We can't do that.' There's a lot of benefit to private education and I just hope people don't lose that interest level just based on price."

Briell said to stay competitive, Brenau increased tuition less than usual this year, but maintained its 46 percent institutional scholarship average to help students fund the university's $29,128 tuition, room and board.

"We only raised our costs 3 percent. Typically we go up 5.5 percent," he said. "We tried to keep our increases down to be sensitive to the economic trouble that people are having now. We went up less, but we kept our commitment scholarships at the same level as last year, so we feel that was a competitive way to go."

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