Columbus State’s enrollment declines while University System of Georgia at all-time high

Confetti flies as CSU renames building to honor Synovus

Columbus State University renamed the building that houses the D. Abbott Turner Business College the Synovus Center of Commerce & Technology to honor the homegrown financial institution, which has a long history of partnership with CSU
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Columbus State University renamed the building that houses the D. Abbott Turner Business College the Synovus Center of Commerce & Technology to honor the homegrown financial institution, which has a long history of partnership with CSU

The year after having the most students in its history, Columbus State University’s enrollment decreased while the University System of Georgia increased to an all-time high.

CSU’s 2018 fall semester enrollment of 8,076 is 4.5 percent less than 8,453 in 2017, according to the USG’s report. It’s the lowest enrollment at CSU in 10 years, nearly wiping out the growth since 2008, when the figure was 7,951. And it’s the largest drop in enrollment at CSU in 20 years, when it fell 5.2 percent, from 5,405 in 1997 to 5,122 in 1998.

The USG’s enrollment across its 26 institutions rose 1.1 percent, from 325,203 students in 2017 to 328,712 in 2018 — the fourth straight year the system surpassed its record.

Meanwhile, CSU failed to keep pace with that trend, but it is among more than half of USG’s institutions (14 of the 26) that had their enrollment decrease this past year.

Only four of the 26 institutions have a steeper enrollment decline than CSU: 12.6 percent at Atlanta Metropolitan State College (from 2,501 to 2,187), 8.1 percent at Gordon State College (from 3,986 to 3,663), 7.9 percent at Savannah State University (from 4,429 to 4,077) and 4.8 percent at Georgia Southwestern State University (from 4,429 to 4,077).

The USG’s highest 2017-18 growth rate is 11.4 percent at Georgia Tech (from 29,369 to 32,723). The University of Georgia increased by 2.8 percent (from 37,606 to 38,652).

In an emailed interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, CSU president Chris Markwood said Thursday that this enrollment report is disappointing but not surprising.

“I have been briefing faculty and trustees about our numbers, and stressing the need for everyone in the CSU family to play a part in recruitment,” Markwood said. “We predicted our overall enrollment numbers would dip because of an expected slowing in graduate enrollment, which has seen record growth in past years.”

Then he noted some positive aspects in the enrollment numbers.

“First, we have more students living on campus now than ever before, which will reverberate positively across our campus in so many ways, and for years to come,” Markwood said. “Also, we have been working hard to recruit and enroll traditional full-time students, and those numbers also are up significantly. We are excited about that, especially since it runs counter to trends at many universities nationwide. Third, our funding formula is based on the number of credit hours students take, and that is only down by 3 percent.”

CSU’s graduate student enrollment this semester is 1,436, down 13 percent from 1,654 last year.

“We knew we were going to face challenges with graduate enrollment for two reasons: 1) the economy is booming, which traditionally means fewer people are seeking advanced degrees in order to further their careers, and 2) we revised a graduate specialist program in education to align it with the requirements of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission,” Markwood said. “This resulted in phasing out the old program, and the new program, with additional prerequisite requirements, has just started.”

Markwood emphasized more than half of the USG institutions had enrollment declines this year.

“That is pretty typical of years past, and we have been fortunate to have been in a growth pattern in past years,” he said. “It’s not unexpected that would eventually slow, especially in our graduate enrollment, which has been climbing fast over the past five years. Even with our decline this year in graduate enrollment, we have seen a 9.2% increase in graduate enrollment since fall of 2014. In terms of enrollment, we remain the largest non-consolidated state university in the University System of Georgia, and I expect that to continue. With an increase in first-time, full-time students on campus, and our continued efforts to improve retention, we are well-positioned for the future.

“But this does not relieve us of the responsibility to work harder and keep growing steadily.”

Markwood mentioned several ways CSU is trying to increase enrollment.

“We are always on the hunt for more well-qualified students,” he said. “We would like to expand our dual enrollment program, continue recruiting qualified first-time, full-time students, expand our focus on retention, and ensure our local audiences know the value and quality we have here at CSU. We just had a Discovery Day in October, and have another one scheduled for Nov. 17. These are great ways for prospective students to learn more about Columbus State University and all the different types of programs we offer.

“One thing we notice is that word is finally spreading that we are now able to offer in-state tuition to all residents of Alabama who come to Columbus State University as an undergraduate student. We think this will be significant for us going forward.

“Some other things we are doing that we think will impact enrollment include working with our local partners to develop and propose new academic programs that industry officials say are needed in this region, such as film production, health-related professions, and robotics. Filling vacant registrar and associate vice president of enrollment management positions are also expected to help in the future. Additionally, we have added recruiters and are retooling our marketing efforts.”

Asked how this enrollment decline has affected and will affect CSU, such as reductions in revenues, employees or programs, Markwood said, “Because of how the state’s funding formula works, with allocations based on enrollment from two years ago, our operations budgets are designed to handle minor fluctuations in enrollment. We have two years to work on retention and future recruitment to offset the formula funding that is tied to enrollment. With the increase in the numbers of students living on campus, there are actually greater demands on our student affairs staff to meet the needs of these students and help them succeed.”

To be clarify, the L-E again asked whether any of CSU’s employees or programs have been or will be reduced or cut because of this enrollment decline. University relations director Greg Hudgison said, “The answer is no.”

Markwood added, “I wish more families knew about the state’s Dual Enrollment program, which allows high school students to earn college credit while working on their high school diploma. This program is little or no cost to students and can save families thousands of dollars. Students are literally graduating from high school at the same time they are earning a college associate’s degree. Our dual enrollment numbers have gone up over the last five years, but we have room for more students in this program.

“Also, the boom in our student housing occupancy rates means a great deal for Columbus. Those students – many of whom are from the Atlanta area — are new residents of this city. In addition to their on-campus activities, they eat, live, play, and entertain themselves in Columbus, all of which adds significantly to CSU’s estimated $295 million economic impact on this region.”


Columbus State University’s fall semester enrollment for the past 10 years:

2018: 8,076, down 4.5 percent

2017: 8,453, up 0.5 percent

2016: 8,407, down 0.4 percent

2015: 8,440, up 3.0 percent

2014: 8,192, up 0.4 percent

2013: 8,156, down 1.0 percent

2012: 8,239, down 0.8 percent

2011: 8,307, up 0.1 percent

2010: 8,298, up 1.5 percent

2009: 8,178, up 2.9 percent

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.