GAINESVILLE — The University of North Georgia is bucking national trends on college enrollment.
The university has seen record enrollment across its campuses this year, even as enrollment has dropped nationwide. And officials said the largest increase in terms of percentage was at UNG’s Cumming campus, which saw a 34 percent increase over last year.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports college enrollment fell by close to a million between 2011 and ’13. At UNG, enrollment has increased by 2.5 percent over last year, with 16,508 students at the beginning of the fall semester.
Janet Marling, acting vice president for student affairs at the university, said a number of factors may have contributed to the increase, including the consolidation process.
The University of North Georgia was formed when Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University merged in January 2013.
Enrollment did not increase at the Gainesville campus this year, but the university saw gains at its Cumming, Dahlonega and Oconee County campuses.
“Consolidation has really afforded us the opportunity to examine our recruitment process, our admission process and our retention program,” she said.
Retention efforts include programs meant to help students progress through school more quickly.
“We’re still looking at the data, but we’re hoping that our multiple pathways to a degree and the resources that students have are encouraging them to stay,” Marling said. “We’re really trying to encourage students to persist in school.”
She said the university has been advising students to take more than the minimum 12 credit hours per year needed to be considered full time, which can curb tuition costs by allowing earlier graduation. The university also makes efforts to inform students of their best financial aid options.
“Research has shown that if you are engaged in a way that you earn a degree more quickly, you do save money in the long run,” Marling said. “We try to ensure that as many students as possible are aware of their options to stay in school.”
Trouble paying bills, she said, is “where you lose the most students.”
She said the university encourages students to enroll in 30 credit hours per year if they are able, whether that means taking 15 credit hours each semester or supplementing a lighter course load with summer classes.
While the largest increase in terms of percentage was at the Cumming campus, which saw a 34 percent increase over the previous year, Marling said this didn’t amount to a large number of students since the total enrollment at that campus is 736.
At the Dahlonega campus, which houses about 6,000 students, enrollment increased by 4.6 percent.
“Our definitive increase was at the Dahlonega campus, from a head count perspective,” Marling said.
The university expanded the number of bachelor’s degree programs offered at the Gainesville campus this year. Though Gainesville is the only campus where enrollment was down this year, Marling noted the decrease was just 16 students.
She said the new bachelor’s degree programs are part of a larger effort to offer more pathways to a degree. She said consolidation has made this effort possible.
“It provides different ways of allowing them to succeed,” she said.
The new programs are also designed to be relevant to the educational needs of the community.
“We have to really look at that strategically so we’re not offering programs just to say we have more to offer,” Marling said. “We are certainly not getting away from our associate degree programs.”
She said the university also offers dual enrollment programs for high school students, which may have contributed to the increase in enrollment this year.
Students are also able to pursue degrees while attending more than one campus, taking online classes or attending school part time.
The idea is to offer as much flexibility as possible in the pursuit of a college degree, which Marling said is important both to recruitment and retention. However, she said the most important factor is providing a quality education.
“You can have absolutely all the best practices,” she said, “but ultimately if you don’t have a good product to deliver, that won’t matter.”