University enrollment declines for Fall semester, although final numbers are unknown

Enrollment for Fall 2017 semester, as of Oct. 15. Information courtesy of Records Office at GS.

Jozsef Papp

For the Fall 2017 semester, Georgia Southern has experienced a decrease in enrollment. Although the number is not official and it is expected to change in the coming weeks, as of Oct. 16, the enrollment for the Fall 2017 semester was 20,418 students (both undergraduate and graduate level), according to an open records request.

If the number is confirmed in the next couple of weeks or months, this would be the lowest enrollment Georgia Southern has had since Fall 2011 when enrollment totaled 20,212 students. The numbers have increased since then, reaching a record high of 20,673 students in the Fall of 2016.

President Jaimie Hebert feels that this is just a result of different cycles seen in higher education and that enrollment changes from year to year throughout the state and country. However, Hebert did say that the university is working to get enrollment back to the record numbers reported in 2016. He feels that it’s important to bring in new students, but also retain current students enrolled.

“We have an enrollment planning committee. The enrollment planning committee works on recruitment, work on streamlining admission processes, streamlining financial aid processes,” Hebert said. “We also do a lot of work on student success. We’re looking into our student retention processes. A very significant part of enrollment is not just new students coming in, it’s helping our current students to stay in school, so that they are successful and they graduate. So that enrollment planning committee looks at all of those aspects of enrollment. We modify our processes so that we can optimize the number of new students that are coming in and the number of current students who remain on our campus.”

Student Affairs and Enrollment Management/Office of Admissions

Amy Ballagh, Ph.D., associate vice president of student affairs and enrollment management, feels similar to Hebert in which it is common that enrollment would fluctuate from year to year, but stated it was too early to determine if a decline has occurred. One of the responsibilities of the office of student affairs and enrollment management is to retain current students enrolled at Georgia Southern.

{{tncms-inline content=”<p>“We are continuing to explore ways to recruit new students and to provide increased access to the University in the future. At the same time, we are focusing on how to retain our current students by seeking ways to enhance our support services and assist our students in being successful,” Ballagh said.</p>” id=”ac32cad7-7434-485a-b49b-965ed42a7284″ style-type=”quote” title=”Pull Quote 1″ type=”relcontent”}}

One responsibility the office of the vice president for student affairs and enrollment management holds is to oversee financial aid and undergraduate admissions, which are some of the departments Ballagh works with in order to help students be successful at GS.

Amy Smith, director of admissions, can’t comment on the numbers from Fall 2017 since they have not been confirmed or finalized, but her office works in order to increase those numbers and making sure the retention of students is high. Smith pointed out that Fall 2016 had a particularly high enrollment rate.

“Fall 2017 enrollment is not final at this time. Fall 2016 was a high enrollment year for many different populations – new undergraduate and graduate students. We also saw high retention rates. All of these things play into making a strong overall enrollment,” Smith said.

Increasing enrollment is one of the main priorities of the office of admissions. There are a variety of techniques used by the Office of Admissions to try and increase enrollment and exposure for the university to potential new students.

“The Office of Undergraduate Admissions is always trying to explore new markets – both in our state and outside of our state. We also look at trends by high school and make sure that students and school counselors are updated on our requirements, processes, programs of study and visit opportunities,” Smith said.

Recruiting students to Georgia Southern is not only a role for the Office of Admissions, but can be considered “a campus-wide initiative”, according to Smith.

“We depend on all of our campus partners to represent their areas at on- and off-campus recruitment events. Students always comment on the service and hospitality they receive when visiting campus as they interact with grounds staff, dining service team members, current students or faculty,” Smith said.

Consolidation

The consolidation between GS and Armstrong, which is scheduled to begin in Jan. 2018 with the complete consolidation finalized by Fall 2018, is expected to result in an increase in students for the consolidated GS. For Hebert, the opportunities that will be offered by the consolidated GS will result in an increase in enrollment for years.

“I think [enrollment numbers] will increase. What we are providing is greater access. The purpose of the consolidation was to provide greater access in a broader array of educational opportunities,” Hebert said. “The plan that we have in place has addressed both of those. So I think with greater opportunities for more students, it is inevitable that we are going to see enrollment growth in the future.”

Although an increase in enrollment generally results in an increase in funding for the university and helps the university financially, for Hebert, increase enrollment results in an enhancement of the academic culture of the institution.

{{tncms-inline content=”<p>“Of course it helps from a financial perspective. As your enrollments grow, you receive more money from the state because it costs more to teach more students,” Hebert said. “Every student that comes to our campus brings another special piece to the culture and so enrollment growth, particularly in new educational areas, is enhancing the academic culture of our institution. That is an intangible positive. That isn’t tied to revenue streams. It is tied to increasing and enhancing the culture and I think that is what enrollment increases do for us.”</p>” id=”45c264e5-5af4-4d82-afb1-c8b86d95790b” style-type=”quote” title=”Pull Quote 2″ type=”relcontent”}}

For Smith and Ballagh, it’s too early to determine what impact the consolidation will have on enrollment long term, but in the short term it will combine the enrollments of both institutions resulting in an increase. Smith hopes that the consolidation and increase in opportunities for students will allow enrollment to grow for a long period of time. Representatives from both institutions are working together for the benefit of the students in the consolidated institution, according to Ballagh.

“Representatives from both Armstrong and Georgia Southern are closely working together to plan for our combined students for fall 2018, and we are currently reviewing ways to expand our academic and student support services to benefit all of our students at all locations,” Ballagh said.

One change that the consolidation will bring to the division of student affairs and enrollment management is that the division will be divided into two separate units: the division of student affairs and the division of enrollment management. According to Ballagh, this will allow each division to focus more in their specific areas, however, they will continue to work closely together.

International students

During the Fall 2016, there were a total of 640 international students at GS from 87 nations. International students made up 3.1 percent of the population at GS with students from Nigeria having the highest number of enrollment at 110. Supporting international and American students is important for the office of student affairs and enrollment management.

“Both within our division and across campus, international students are supported by many offices to assist with their academic, social, financial, and other needs,” Ballagh said. “As with all of our students, we do what we can to help them remain enrolled and successfully progress toward graduation. Additionally, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has staff who are dedicated to international recruitment and work with these students to apply and attend Georgia Southern.”