The newspaper, relying on preliminary data, reported Tuesday the system enrolled 312,600 students as of Sept. 6, a 1.1 percent drop from the 316,095 the prior year. It was only the third time since 1978 that enrollment dropped. Final numbers are expected next month.
The data indicates five schools dropped by more than 10 percent: Fort Valley State University; and Bainbridge, Georgia Perimeter, East Georgia State and Gordon State colleges.
Meanwhile, Georgia colleges are dealing with another round of state budget cuts — $54 million this year and $54 million next year. In the past, schools used additional tuition revenue from higher enrollments to soften the cuts, but that is not an option for many campuses this year.
“If the students are not there, then institutions will have to consider fewer personnel and reduced program offerings,” system spokesman John Millsaps said.
The university system has warned colleges about the drop for more than a year. While the system gained about 100,000 students over the past decade, the rate of increase slowed recently.
“We cannot grow at double-digits indefinitely,” said Rob Watts, interim president of Georgia Perimeter College. The school gained more than 11,000 students over the past decade but dropped this fall.
Millsaps said the system cannot pinpoint the reason for the enrollment decline. Officials placed much of the blame on the weak economy and changes to financial aid programs such as the federal Pell Grant and Georgia’s HOPE scholarship that reduced award payouts for some recipients, the newspaper said.
Similar enrollment drops have been seen at public colleges in Ohio, Florida and California.