DAHLONEGA — Officials are expecting a 4 to 6 percent enrollment increase this fall at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, solidifying the all-commuter campus as the largest of the five UNG locations.
“Gainesville, by design, will be our largest campus, and it’s already somewhat larger,” UNG President Bonita Jacobs said in an interview with The Times Friday. “Gainesville is such a dynamic city. It’s much larger with more opportunities.”
Student enrollment was 7,171 at the Gainesville campus compared with 7,026 at the Dahlonega campus this spring, according to numbers provided by the university. The Dahlonega campus is expected to grow by 1 to 2 percent this fall, Jacobs said.
While infrastructure issues will likely limit growth in Dahlonega in the next few years, the Gainesville campus is expecting to receive the Lanier Technical College property and buildings adjacent to its campus when Lanier Tech moves to its new facilities in 2019. Until then, Jacobs said the school is looking at “creative” ways to handle Gainesville’s growth, including leasing space off campus for offices that don’t deal directly with students.
“It’s going to be a little more difficult this fall,” she said. “What I don’t want is to freeze the enrollment in Gainesville and turn away students we could be serving and then in another year or so say, ‘We’re going to open it up; we’re going to have a 10 percent increase.’”
Gainesville State College merged with North Georgia College and State University when UNG was formed in 2013.
Student housing at the Gainesville campus was among the needs addressed in UNG’s 10-year master plan released last month. The plan would put student housing near the current Lanier Tech buildings, but it has not reached the stage of being considered for funding.
“If we’re able to secure housing, Gainesville has the capacity to attract from all over the state, particularly with some of the signature programs,” Jacobs said. “The academics are very strong.”
Jacobs, founder of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, said she has noticed a different atmosphere at the Gainesville campus compared to other commuter schools.
“There’s a sense of community and belonging that is rare for a commuter campus,” she said. “It creates an incredible environment. There’s tremendous pride on that campus.”
Jacobs said any request for student housing at the Gainesville campus would have to be approved by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. No timetable has been set for such a request.
“I think Gainesville has as strong a case as any of our campuses for adding residence halls,” she said.
Jacobs said she is excited about potential in the other four UNG campuses, as well.
“One of the reasons we have consolidated so well is that we never wanted to make every campus the same,” she said. “We have honored the traditions of every campus. But every campus is different and has a slightly different mission for what we’re trying to do.”
Dahlonega is the only residential campus and has one of only six senior military colleges in the nation, according to Jacobs.
“We’re becoming more and more a four-year campus (at Dahlonega), fewer students moving in and out of this campus than any of the others,” she said. “This campus focuses a lot on the sciences and business and has a very strong international program. We’re growing in our graduate programs.”
The two-year program at the Oconee County campus has growth challenges, being “maxed out” in space with 2,400 students. Jacobs said most of the students there transfer to other UNG campuses, the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech.
“We definitely need more space and we have a master plan that indicates that we will have it,” Jacobs said. “It’s not about how big we can make our campus. It’s about how do we serve our mission.”
The UNG campus in Cumming opened as a learning center in 2012 and was officially a UNG campus when the merger was completed in 2013. Jacobs said enrollment has already grown to more than 1,000 students.
“Over 1,000 students in five years is pretty remarkable for a new campus,” said Jacobs, who helped start a new campus of the University of North Texas before coming to UNG. “Dallas is a little bit larger than Cumming, and it took us a lot longer than five years to get to 1,000 students.”
Blue Ridge is the newest campus, opening in 2015 after after a study found that college completion rate among adults in the 14-county area nearest the campus was under 20 percent. The school started a cohort program that encouraged students to be full-time students because, “people who go full time are more likely to complete the program and graduate,” according to Jacobs. The program also emphasizes small class sizes and provides a network support group to encourage students.
The school grew by 400 percent in the first year and is expected to grow by another 30-40 percent this fall, according to Jacobs.
“The best recruitment for our program is the students,” she said. “That campus will continue to be robust.”
The growth at the five campuses also presents challenges for Jacobs.
“Managing our growth is a challenge in a sense that our funding always comes from two years ago and when you’re growing, you struggle to add the new faculty and the staff that you need,” she said. “The system has been very attentive to our needs and funded us at the level that they’re able to, but every president will tell you it’s never enough. But we’re doing well. We stretch our dollar very well and we try to be good stewards of student money.”