By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Marrero: GS enrollment should top 27,000 now; 29,000 by 2026
Pre-merger combined peak 28,013 students in 2012
Georgia Southern University president Kyle Marrero delivers his State of the University address during Convocation on Thursday, August 5.
Georgia Southern University president Kyle Marrero delivers his State of the University address during Convocation on Thursday, August 5.

After obtaining its two largest freshman classes ever despite a pandemic, Georgia Southern University is set to start classes Wednesday with more than 27,000 students expected for fall semester, the most the university’s campuses have greeted since fall 2017.

So, a rebound continues after a decline to 26,060 students in fall 2019. A few years out, a national demographic sag in the number of graduating high school students looms. But if the university adapts as it should, Georgia Southern could have a record enrollment of 29,200 students in 2026, GS President Dr. Kyle Marrero said Thursday in the Statesboro campus version of his State of the University speech.

He cited information from the office led by Vice President of Enrollment Management Dr. Scot Lingrell.

“Fall 2021, we’re looking good,” Marrero said. “In fact, Scot’s team in Enrollment Management has assured me that we are going to have a record freshman class again. We had 5,247 freshmen, so we’re going to have 5,248 freshman, at least, when we get the census.”

The fall semester 2020 count of 5,247 new freshmen, or first-year undergraduate students, was included last November in the University System of Georgia’s report for all its institutions. The official fall 2021 headcount is not due until this October.

So Georgia Southern officials haven’t released an exact number of freshmen or the total number of students expected to arrive next week. As happens most years at this time, there is only a general indication with some hedging of the bet.

“We were at 26,949 students in our census last fall, and we believe we’ll be just north of 27,000 as we grow,” Marrero said. “Now we’ll see where that lands as we get through everything.”

“A” Term half-semester courses begin Wednesday along with the full-semester courses. “B” Term half-semester courses start Oct. 6. The university will be inviting students who have not enrolled to do so for “B” Term and encouraging other students to add additional credit hours, hoping to bolster enrollment, Marrero said.

But a deadline for dropping and adding classes and cancellations for failure to pay can also affect enrollment before the October census.

 

2012 record stands

A few more than 27,000 students will not be a new record for the combination of campuses that are now Georgia Southern University.

The record combined headcount for Georgia Southern and the former Armstrong State University that has since become part of it was 28,013 students back in fall 2012. After dipping to 27,618 the next year, plateauing and then rising to 27,830 in fall 2016, the combined campuses’ enrollment dropped more sharply, through and after the January 2018 consolidation, to 26,060 in 2019.

So last fall’s rise of 889 students overall was a 3.4% gain in a single year. Meanwhile, the size of the incoming freshman class surged 42%, from the previous fall’s 3,675 first-year students.

Marrero largely credits a strategic enrollment plan, whose development he and Lingrell guided to completion after they arrived in the spring of 2019, and a refreshed branding and marketing effort.

As part of this, with approval from the state Board of Regents, Georgia Southern now offers the much lower in-state tuition rate to students from the five “border states” of South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee. Students from Georgia still get priority for admission.

The university will need to make the most of these efforts and adapt in new ways to maintain its enrollment and grow purposefully in coming years, Marrero told faculty and staff.

Among several enrollment-related slides, his PowerPoint show included one illustrating an expected drop in the number of high school graduates nationally resulting from a dip in the birthrate back in 2008 to 2013. The graph traced a decline from a peak of about 111,900 graduating 12th-graders in Georgia in 2025 to about 90,000 in 2031, rising to 91,700 in 2034.

“We call this, and you’ve probably heard it before, the Enrollment Cliff,” Marrero said, noting that the projected decline would be about 15% nationally and about  11-12%  in Georgia.

Another of his graphs presented separate trend lines by race for high school seniors within Georgia Southern’s traditional market area. Reaching  back to 2019 and forward to 2030, this showed the number of white non-Hispanic 12th-graders declining 31%  and  the number  of black 12th-graders 5%, but the population of Hispanic 12th-graders climbing 38%  and Asian 12th-graders, 35%.

Beyond the moral imperative “in terms of how you treat other people and  help them to be successful,” these trends provide “the business  case,” Marrero said,  for the efforts at diversity and  inclusion  that university officials refer to as “inclusive excellence.”

 

Older students

While needing to do everything it can to attract and retain a diversity of students right out of high school, the university projects that its largest market growth will be among “adult learners,” such as graduate and transfer students, Marrero said.

Through dual enrollment programs, Georgia Southern also enrolls some students still in high school, 953 as of last fall.

“We’ll be increasingly reliant on adult, dual-enrollment, military-connected, transfer, graduate students and students of color in enrollment replacement, to not only stay where we are, but to grow,” Marrero said.  “Our plan is to grow.”

Enrollment growth was one key topic among several in a wide-ranging 50-minute speech. His overall theme was that the university must continue adapting, while adhering to its stated vision and strategic plan, to move forward.

 

Five-year projection

The projection of how many students Georgia Southern will have five years from now was part of the “Vision 2026” segment.

“Scot’s team and marketing tell me we could be at 29,200,” Marrero  said. “Continual growth, that’s purposeful growth; that’s not crazy growth, considering everything that we’re facing. That’s going to be where we start to transverse into other markets, as we’ve talked about.”

The 2026 projection includes 24,900 undergraduate students and 4,300 graduate students.  This suggests a more than 20% increase in the number of GS graduate students but only a 6% increase in undergraduates over the entire five years.

Faculty and staff members filled fewer than half of the seats inside the Performing Arts Center for Thursday morning’s presentation. But Marrero had given much the same speech Wednesday on the Armstrong campus in Savannah, and his remarks were also available “virtually” online.

Even with the self-limited audiences, this year’s speech represented some return to normality after the virtual address Marrero gave one year earlier. 

“We appreciate those who are here in person and those that are watching virtually,” he said in his opening remarks. “Last year at this time I was on this stage and I was speaking into a camera, and so it’s nice to have human beings with us today.” 

Under the rules set by the state University System, Georgia Southern is strongly encouraging, but not requiring, students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and to wear face masks while in campus facilities.

The university has provided almost 8,000 vaccination shots on its campuses. Mass vaccination clinics are scheduled for students, faculty and staff. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday in the Recreation Activity Center on the Statesboro campus and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday at the Armstrong Recreation Center in Savannah. Appointments can be made at www.georgiasouthern.edu/covid-19-information/vaccine.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter