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UNG has rapid growth on and off Gainesville campus
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The vacated space of the former Lanier Technical College will be used by nearby University of North Georgia. - photo by Scott Rogers

Six years after the birth of the University of North Georgia from the consolidation of North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College, commercial and residential growth is booming around the Hall County campus.

UNG was one of four recommended institution consolidations, and the only one in North Georgia.

UNG now serves students at five campuses in Blue Ridge, Cumming, Dahlonega, Watkinsville and the Gainesville area.

Enrollment growth since the merger has been evident in undergraduate programs, such as nursing, education, communications and business management, while graduate-level and dual-enrollment courses for high school students has also grown dramatically.

UNG has also seen more interest in programs with ties to local industry and job demands, as well as a cybersecurity curriculum that helps continue the school’s legacy as a top military college with its Dahlonega campus.

And like UNG’s cyber education program, the university’s Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis has earned prestigious honors, and expanding this program is a priority for officials.  

Much of the university’s growth has centered in Hall, however.

“There’s something really interesting about the Gainesville campus,” said UNG President Bonita Jacobs.

For a non-residential campus, the student body is “very engaged,” Jacobs added, with dozens of clubs and student organizations, on-campus activities and events, and plans for expansion of facilities.

UNG’s Gainesville campus has also benefited from a growing Latino student demographic that Jacobs describes as a “very, very vibrant population.”

Jacobs said UNG is increasing its faculty and student affairs offices to bolster its work with multicultural students, such as those from migrant-working and immigrant families.

According to a report released in December 2018, the University of North Georgia, across its five campuses and online programs, had an estimated $620 million economic impact on Northeast Georgia in the 2017 fiscal year.

The study measures direct and indirect spending that contributes to the university’s service region.

And it’s these potential long-term benefits — the direct impact of jobs and benefits and spending from UNG’s employment — that has officials at UNG focusing on future growth and development.

The university’s approximately 19,000 students spent an estimated $248 million in the 2017 fiscal year, helping spur the creation of 3,721 jobs across a 17-county region, which extends from Gwinnett, Hall and Forsyth on the southern end, east to Clarke and Oconee counties, and north to Habersham and Lumpkin counties. UNG also had a regional employment impact of 6,769 jobs, the study reports.

The employment impact includes on-campus positions and off-campus jobs that exist because of the institution.

This growth has produced a steady stream of rezoning applications, particularly for private student housing development, in the last year around the Gainesville campus.

A 348-unit apartment complex off Mundy Mill Road got the Oakwood City Council’s first approval in November, for example.

Other projects, including townhomes, have also been linked to the student growth at UNG.

Student growth at UNG is affecting area retail. The area already boasts a number of fast-food restaurants and coffee places.

Jacobs said the Gainesville campus is poised for the strongest amount of growth, with 8,100 students currently and 75 percent attending full time.

And with the relocation of Lanier Technical College from a campus adjacent to UNG-Gainesville, more growth is coming to the school.  

UNG projects its enrollment at all campuses will reach 22,950 students by 2025, a 33 percent increase from the current figure, with the Gainesville campus leading the way. 

UNG plans to use the Lanier Tech space for disciplines such as geospatial sciences, film and digital media, nursing, visual arts and the office of information technology.

UNG hopes to have the Lanier Tech space occupied by August. The acquisition also provides an additional 600 parking spaces.

UNG is also exploring ways to expand its performing arts through the Gainesville Theatre Alliance, as well as music programs, according to Kate Maine, chief of staff for UNG.

Renovations are scheduled for completion in 2020, and UNG is using more than $13 million in state funds to plan, build out and equip the new space.

UNG has had “such an incredibly supportive legislative delegation for the region,” Jacobs said.

The renovation of the Lanier Tech space will have a “ripple effect,” Jacobs said, and it is already leading officials to plan for an expansion of the student center on the Gainesville campus.

“They come to campus and stay on campus,” Maine said of UNG-Gainesville’s unique student body. “That’s a top priority.”