The University System of Georgia's annual enrollment report confirms what Georgia Southern University officials had predicted, that Georgia Southern now has more than 27,000 students and a second consecutive record-size freshman class.
Georgia Southern’s fall semester 2021 enrollment at the official October count was 27,091 students, a half of 1% increase over fall 2020’s enrollment figure of 26,949. The 27,091 figure is not in itself a new record for overall enrollment, since the university's enrollment has been measured with that of the former Armstrong State University retroactively to its consolidation into Georgia Southern at the beginning of 2018. Their record combined headcount was 28,013 students back in fall 2012.
But the fall semester 2021 figure shows that, after the enrollment decline that had occurred before and during consolidation, a turnaround that had gathered steam in fall 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, is continuing.
“I am proud of our strategic enrollment strategies supported by marketing and communication that are reflected in these enrollment increases and the transformational work being done by our faculty and staff,” Georgia Southern University President Kyle Marrero said in a press release Monday. “Georgia Southern is taking that next step in regional impact and national prominence.”
At this point, Georgia Southern is bucking national trends. Undergraduate enrollment in universities and colleges is down 3.2% nationwide from a year ago and down 6.5% as a total from two years ago, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
State total stagnant
Georgia Southern was also one of only five University System of Georgia institutions that saw enrollment growth this year, according to the USG's report and an accompanying news release. Those five were Georgia Tech, with 10.3% growth, Kennesaw State University with 4.4%, the University of Georgia with 2.5%, Georgia Southern with 0.5% and Augusta University, with 0.4%.
Overall, the University System of Georgia reported a 0.2% decrease in the number of students, with 340,638 students attending the system's 26 public colleges and universities, just 851 students fewer than last year.
But that decline comes after seven straight years of growth, Capitol Beat News Service reported.
Record frosh class
Just as in fall semester 2020, Georgia Southern set a new record in its number of first-year students, traditionally known as beginning freshmen. This fall the university had 5,430 new first-year students, an increase of almost 3.5% from 5,247 first-year students the previous fall.
But that 5,247 fall semester 2020 headcount had represented a dramatic 42.7% upsurge from a headcount of just 3,675 GS first-year students in fall 2019. In fall 2018 there had been 3,900 new first-year students.
Georgia Southern's numbers of out-of-state, dual enrollment and fully online students also rose to record levels in fall 2021. Buoyed by in-state tuition offered to residents of states that border Georgia, the out-of-state enrollment at Georgia Southern this fall was 2,646, up from 2,443 last year, and significantly up from the fall 2018 figure of 1,974.
The count of dually enrolled students -- those in high school taking college courses -- rose to 982 this fall, up from 953 last year, and also significantly up from the fall 2018 figure of 583.
The university's count of students enrolled exclusively in online classes rose to 2,584 this year, up from 2,356 in fall 2020. Figures in the state report are not divided this way, but in recent years Georgia Southern has tracked "online campus" enrollment as well as enrollment for its Statesboro, Armstrong (Savannah) and Liberty (Hinesville) campuses.
Pride and caution
“Especially in light of national trends and the COVID-19 pandemic, I am proud of our team and these final enrollment figures,” Scot Lingrell, GS vice president of enrollment management, said in the university's press release. “We are anticipating a drop in the total number of high school students in future years, so we are redoubling our efforts to attract adults, transfers, dual enrollment students, military-connected, graduate and international residents.”
He and Marrero have been expressing those cautions about the future through much of 2021. They had also forecast both the second-year record freshman class and, roughly, the overall enrollment.
“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 told faculty and staff members in his State of the University speech on Aug. 5. “Now we’ll see where that lands as we get through everything.”
He also said that, if the university adapts as it should, Georgia Southern could have a record enrollment of 29,200 students in 2026.