While the University System of Georgia’s overall enrollment grew 3% from fall semester 2022 to fall 2023, reaching a new record high of 344,392 students, Georgia Southern University’s enrollment grew 2.35%. But Georgia Southern’s official total of 26,106 students this fall does not set even a recent record, since the university had 27,091 students fall semester 2021.
A report publicized this week by the University System of Georgia’s communications office based on the Board of Regents’ official mid-October headcount shows that 23 of the system’s 26 public colleges and universities have more students this fall than last fall. Judging by percentages from a detailed chart in the report, Georgia Southern posted the 18th largest gain among the 23 schools that experienced growth.
The 2.35% gain shown in the official October census confirmed or slightly outperformed a prediction that Dr. Amy Ballagh, Georgia Southern’s vice president for enrollment management, made in a Statesboro Herald interview reported Aug. 14, the first day of fall semester classes.
“Looking at where we are right now, we are around 26,000 students,” she said then. “We’ll land somewhere around that number.”
Exactly 26,000 would have been a not-quite 2% gain from fall semester 2022, when Georgia Southern’s official count was 25,506 students. So, the actual increase, a gain of 600 students, was a little better.
But both Georgia Southern and the University System as a whole had experienced an enrollment drop the previous year, from fall 2021 to fall 2022. In fact, the University System of Georgia had seen a two-year tapering off, from 341,489 students in fall 2020 to 340,638 in fall 2021, or 0.2%, and then a further 1.8%, to 334,459 students in fall 2022.
But Georgia Southern suffered a relatively dramatic 5.9% dip from fall 2021, when the university had 27,091 students enrolled at the official October count, to the 25,506 students in October 2022. That was after the university defied COVID-19 pandemic period expectations by receiving two of its largest freshman classes ever in 2020 and 2021.
In the August interview, Ballagh noted that a smaller freshman class arrived in 2022, contributing to last year’s drop in total enrollment.
Enrollment officers had identified two major factors in the setback, both rooted in the COVID-19 pandemic. The first was the lateness of the University System of Georgia’s decision to wave requirements for scores from admissions tests, such as the SAT and ACT, when four of the five neighboring states – Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee – had chosen to make test scores optional. Florida still required the scores, and Tennessee has since returned to requiring them.
Georgia’s Board of Regents did ultimately make admission test scores optional for most fall 2022 acceptance to most of USG institutions when students met certain requirements for high school grades. But this was first announced in March 2022, which Ballagh noted was “pretty late in the enrollment and recruitment cycle” for first-year students.
But for fall 2023, the regents extended the test scores waiver one year in advance. Students with a high school grade point average of 3.2 – calculated by the University System’s rules – can gain admission to Georgia Southern and the other three “comprehensive” universities without submitting test scores. Requirements vary for other categories of USG schools.
The waiver has been extended again for academic year 2024-2025.
A Nov. 14 news release issued by GS Director of University Communications Jennifer Wise notes Georgia Southern’s 2.35% overall increase and touts “several records” set with this fall’s enrollment. The records listed in the release are specific to certain categories of students:
· Total number of dual-enrolled students (new and returning). This year, there are 1,058 high school students dual-enrolled at Georgia Southern, an increase of 259 students (32.4%) from last fall. The previous record was 982 in fall 2021, Wise reported.
· New dual-enrolled students (a subset of the previous category). This year there are 773 enrolled, an increase of 265 (52.2%) from last fall. The previous record was 640 in fall 2020.
· Total number of graduate students (new and returning). This year there are 3,753 enrolled, an increase of 250 students (7.1%) from last fall. The previous record was 3,549 in fall 2021.
· Honors College students. This year there are 309 new freshmen enrolled in the GS Honors College program, a 69% increase from 183 last fall.
· New graduate students. This year there are 1,007 enrolled, an increase of 134 students (15.4%) from last fall. The previous record was 956 grad students in fall 2016.
· Master’s degree students (a subset of graduate students). This year there are 2,758 enrolled, an increase of 193 students (7.6%) from last fall. The previous record was 2,682 in fall 2009.
· Doctoral students (another subset of graduate students). This year there are 688 enrolled, an increase of 51 students (8.0%) from last fall. The previous record was 657 in fall 2019.
· Out-of-state students (new and returning). This year there are 2,869 enrolled, an increase of 259 students (14.6%) from last fall. The previous record was 2,646 in fall 2021.
“Our mission is to provide a quality, relevant educational experience that will equip the future leaders of our state with the knowledge and skills they need to make an immediate impact in their careers and communities," GS President Kyle Marrero is quoted in the news release as saying. "This enrollment growth is not only a testament to the strategic efforts and hard work of our dedicated faculty and staff but also a reflection of Georgia Southern's commitment to student success and talent development that serves the growing needs of our region."
Georgia Southern’s totals include students enrolled at its Statesboro, Armstrong (Savannah) and Liberty (Hinesville) campuses, as well as “Online Campus” students who take internet-based classes exclusively.
Georgia’s 5th largest
The Board of Regents report shows that Georgia Southern continues to be the fifth-largest institution in the system by enrollment and second-largest of the second-tier “comprehensive” universities, behind Kennesaw State University, which now has 45,152 students after 4.4% growth from last fall. The other “comprehensive” institutions are the University of West Georgia, with 12,769 students after 7.2% growth, and Valdosta State University, now with 10,180 students after shrinking slightly, 0.4%, from 10,225 students in fall 2022.
Above these in the state’s classification system are the four top-tier “research” universities, whose status isn’t based on the number of students, since one of them, Augusta University, home of the Medical College of Georgia, has fewer students than three of the “comprehensive” institutions. The other “research” universities are the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University and the University of Georgia. (Georgia Southern has a Carnegie “R2” research designation, but that is a different matter from the state classification.)
Augusta University has 10,546 students enrolled this fall, up 7.5% from 9,813 in fall 2022. Meanwhile, Georgia’s largest university in terms of enrollment, Georgia State, experienced a 2.8% decline, from 51,995 students last fall to 50,521 in this fall’s report. Georgia Tech continued to grow, from 45,296 students last fall to 47,961 now, a 5.9% gain. The University of Georgia saw a 2.5% increase, from 40,607 to 41,615 students.
In the category of the smaller “state colleges,” one institution, Gordon State College, reported a gain of exactly one student, from 3,144 to 3,145, and so its growth was charted as 0%. As noted above, Georgia State University and Valdosta State saw declines.
East Georgia’s decline
But the USG institution that reported the largest enrollment shrinkage was one with a Statesboro presence, East Georgia State College. Its enrollment dropped 6.9%, from 1,900 students in fall 2022 to 1,768 students in fall 2023. Headquartered in Swainsboro, EGSC also has a program in Augusta. Its Statesboro program was relocated from a separate campus to the Nessmith-Lane Building on the Georgia Southern campus at the beginning of 2022.