Enrollment at Georgia's universities, colleges keeps growing

ATLANTA (AP) — Enrollment at Georgia's public colleges and universities reached an all-time high for the fifth year in a row, powered mostly by increases at a few of the state's largest schools.

The University System of Georgia reported Tuesday that total enrollment rose 1.5% in fall 2019 from fall 2018. More than 333,000 students are enrolled across the state's 26 institutions.

Among those schools, 11 showed growth and 15 showed declines.

The fastest growing institution, proportionally, was Georgia Tech, where enrollment went up nearly 12% to 36,000. The Atlanta school's 3,800-student gain made up more than three-quarters of all student gains statewide. Georgia Tech officials said the gains are primarily among graduate students, with many of the new students enrolled in online master's degree programs, mostly in computer science, analytics and cybersecurity. Georgia Tech is the only public university in Georgia where a majority of students are pursuing graduate degrees.

"Georgia Tech's unique ability to provide high-quality, affordable education in an accessible way has resulted in unprecedented growth in these online programs, with the newest being cybersecurity," Bonnie Ferri, vice provost of graduate education and faculty development, said in a statement.

Other schools showing large gains on a percentage basis were Kennesaw State University, Middle Georgia State University and Georgia Gwinnett College. Fast-growing Kennesaw State, with nearly 38,000 students, said it's hiring 80 new faculty members and 30 new academic advisers this year to accommodate new students. That includes a 6,500-student freshman class that is 30% larger than in fall 2018. The school also plans a new dormitory, citing student demand for on-campus housing that the Cobb County institution can't fill.

But smaller, less comprehensive institutions mostly lagged. Atlanta Metropolitan State College saw enrollment drop the most, proportionally, falling 16% to 1,844. All three of the system's historically black institutions — Albany State University, Fort Valley State University and Savannah State University — saw decreases, as did Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.

Universities nationwide are fighting headwinds including a declining number of traditional college-age students and a good economy that means many adults don't feel an urgent need to brush up on their skills. Georgia's population growth means high school graduates are still at a peak, but are projected to start falling in the mid-2020s because birth rates fell during the recession and haven't recovered.

Like the rest of the state's population, college enrollment continues to diversify. For the second year in a row, the majority of students are non-white, while the share of Asian and Hispanic students continued to surge.

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