Enrollment up for freshman class at Georgia Southwestern
By LEILA S. CASE
AMERICUS —The day before “Move In Day” at Georgia Southwestern State University, Charles Patterson, Ph.D., interim president, spoke with enthusiasm to the Americus Kiwanis Club about the overall rise in student enrollment for fall semester and the positive outlook for the campus.
The following day, Patterson and his wife Colleen and their son Aidan was on campus to welcome students moving into residence halls, lifting boxes, bags and generally assisting wherever needed to ready them for life on the campus.
Standing before the Kiwanians gathered for their weekly luncheon meeting in the faculty dining room, Patterson joked a bit in opening remarks, thanking them for asking him, a Rotarian, to give the program. He was introduced by Steven Snyder, public relations director, and welcomed by Robert Kauffman, Kiwanis president,
“To say I am excited about the coming year is an understatement,” said Patterson, smiling broadly. “We are expecting approximately 25 percent more freshmen than last year, (one of the larger incoming freshman classes in the university’s history), and a total enrollment increase of approximately 5 to 7 percent as compared to last fall. This is on top of the 4.3 percent growth from the previous year.
“Enrollment is projected at or near 2,935 students – 125 students short of the university’s largest enrollment back in 2010,” Patterson said. “That is tremendous growth for GSW and you’ll see it on campus and in the community.”
The number of students from out of state, those living on campus or in the community, has increased about 40 to 50 percent, revealed Patterson, with quite a number from Florida.
“I think the growth is what we need and it is at the right time because the community and state is looking at growth from Georgia Southwestern,” said Patterson. “Enrollment, retention and completion is imperative to our strength and identity as a state university and we have made great strides in this area. The necessity to see growth in our student body, both in quantity and quality, will continue to be a strategic priority for Southwestern.”
Many of the classes are full and staffing is extremely tight due to the leap in enrollment, but this is a good problem to have, he said.
The university’s faculty is meeting the challenge to accommodate teaching the large number of incoming freshmen, said Patterson, revealing that he, too, was to return to the classroom to teach a biology lab, beginning Thursday.
“I can’t wait to see the look on our students’ faces when they see the president is the one teaching the lab,” quipped Patterson.
The university expected growth but underestimated demand, Patterson pointed out. Although the university lost state funding last year because of the enrollment decline, they were able to fill 112 of the 115 faculty positions on record and five new positions, he said, explaining further that now, because of the positive trend in enrollment, there will be additional resources to hire more faculty, continue some salary equity adjustments and invest in programs and initiatives that align with the university’s emerging Strategic Plan.
Patterson said the plan in the coming year is to implement strategies across all divisions to develop a comprehensive, integrated enrollment plan that will focus on target markets for regional, state, out of state and international students.
“Ultimately, this plan will allow us to better anticipate hiring faculty and staff in a proactive manner,” said Patterson.
Patterson said the university’s new Strategic Plan includes expanding high-impact teaching and learning experiences, transforming campus and working together, cultivation of community engagement, and promoting better fundraising.
“The plan will drive all that we do and the decisions that we make as an institution,” said Patterson. He is pleased Americus leaders are actively involved in the “town and gown” relationship to support the university’s distinction as a community-engaged institution.
During the past six months, the City of Americus has hired a new tourism director, Main Street director, Event Planner and reconstituted the Downtown Development board. “This commitment to staffing and planning and our enrollment growth better position the community and university to grow together,” said Patterson. ‘First Friday’ events and the ‘Welcome Back Bash’ event for Southwestern and South Georgia Technical College students planned for Aug. 19 are examples of the shared programming in the future as Americus and Southwestern become the destination of choice for students within the region, the border states and beyond,” said Patterson, “GSW had an $8 million economic impact on the surrounding community and this will only continue.”
Regarding the university’s athletic department, Patterson said basketball Coach Mike Leeder took the full-time position of athletic director, a move that was needed to retain compliance with the Peachbelt Conference bylaws and also to provide focus on fundraising efforts to enhance athletic competitiveness in NCAA Division II athletics and the overall student athlete experience. Additionally new head coaches or assistant coaches in men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, women’s soccer and cross country were welcomed.
Another positive he said is that Southwestern was ranked six among the nation’s most affordable online colleges in 2016, according to a new report by rankings.com and also approved as the exclusive University System of Georgia school to offer a bachelor of business administration through the eMajor program beginning spring 2017.
Before closing Patterson turned to points of pride in the academic programs: nursing and nurse practitioner; business, education, and arts and sciences and said hat they each help prepare the students for graduate schools and professional life.
“Our future as Georgia Southwestern State University rests in front of us,” said Patterson. “We are reaching a potential milestone in Southwestern’s history and hopefully we’ve planned.”