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Dive Brief:

  • The University System of Georgia is seeking to enroll roughly 11,300 more in-state students in about five years under a strategic plan its governing board approved Wednesday.
  • System officials want to bring its in-state enrollment up to 278,848 by 2029, a potentially tall order given USG has seen enrollment declines in the past couple of years. Low birth rates during the Great Recession are also forecasted to drive down the number of traditional-age college students. 
  • The plan formally comes into effect in September. It also aims to boost the system’s six-year graduation rate and its retention rate, which refers to the share of students returning to USG institutions after their first year. 

Dive Insight:

USG enjoyed years of steady enrollment growth between 2013 and 2020. Fall 2020 saw an all-time high of 341,489 students, according to the system. But then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and enrollment began to dip slightly. By fall 2022, it had fallen about 2% from its peak to 334,459 students. 

The system is still apparently confident it can raise its in-state enrollment, along with its student outcomes. 

Its newly-approved master plan calls for USG to improve its one-year retention rate for bachelor’s degree seekers from about 82% now to 85% by 2029. 

Officials also want to boost the system’s six-year graduation rate from 63% to 65% in that timeframe. That’s slightly higher than the national six-year rate of roughly 62%, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

USG has also developed targets for associate degree earners. It’s seeking to lift their retention rate from about 65% to 70%, and the three-year graduation rate from almost 17% to nearly 21%.

To help meet the enrollment benchmarks, the system will try out a direct admissions model, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Direct admissions send attendance offers to high schoolers before they even apply. Other public systems, like Wisconsin’s, have considered implementing such policies. And this year, the State University of New York system automatically admitted 125,000 high school graduates in the state to local community colleges.

One of the most visible direct admissions experiments comes from the Common App, an online portal enabling students to apply to more than 1,000 participating colleges. 

It said in November that 14 institutions would be a part of its direct admissions pilot program, which started in 2021. The Common App previously found students were more likely to apply to an institution if they were automatically admitted. 

USG Chancellor Sonny Perdue in November attributed the system’s decline to factors plaguing other public higher ed systems, including a robust job market that drew students away from college, as well as the pandemic’s lingering effects.

“Still, I’m a facts guy, and the facts show USG graduates will make over $1 million more in their lifetimes thanks to their college degree,” Perdue said in a statement at the time. “Frankly, we need to do a better job marketing that valuable return on investment.”

Other system goals include growing research spending. Officials want to reach $2.6 billion in annual research funding, up from about $1.9 billion, at its R1 and R2 institutions, including University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, as well as Augusta, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Kennesaw State universities.