By Curt Yeomans
Clayton State University officials announced springtime enrollment this year is 86 students short of setting an all-time record for the school.
Clayton State has 6,127 students taking classes at its main campus in Morrow, and at its satellite campus in Peachtree City, according to a University System of Georgia enrollment report. The number is an increase of 3.3 percent from the spring 2008 semester.
The enrollment number is the school's highest for a spring semester, and it is also the second highest in school's nearly 40-year history, university spokesman John Shiffert said Tuesday. Only the fall 2005 semester had more students, with an enrollment of 6,212 pupils, Shiffert said.
"It's not just admissions, it's not just academic affairs, it's not just student retention," Shiffert said. "It's a joint effort by many different departments ... Enrollment is not just getting new students, but keeping the ones we already have."
Across the 35-institution university system, there was a 5.8 percent enrollment increase this spring, with 272,910 students currently attending college. Ninety-six percent of students enrolled in public state institutions last fall returned to their schools this spring.
"Traditionally, spring enrollment is well below fall semester, but this spring's enrollment approached that of fall," Vice-Chancellor for the Office of Research and Policy Analysis Cathie Mayes Hudson said. Hudson's office prepared the report.
One factor in Clayton State's higher spring enrollment figure was an increase in dual enrollment of high school students. Compared to a year ago, the university's dual-enrollment number increased by 52.12 percent, to 143 students. Assistant Vice-President of Academic Outreach Kevin Demmitt said the growth was partially due to the university opening the Peachtree City satellite campus.
Demmitt also said there was increase in inquiries from Clayton County residents about the dual-enrollment program last fall when Clayton County Public Schools lost its accreditation. He also said, however, there is no data that shows the accreditation loss helped lead to the increased dual enrollment.
Demmitt said he expects Clayton State's dual-enrollment numbers to increase by as many as 30 students in the fall, when the university begins offering dual-enrollment courses at the Academy of Advanced Studies at Henry County High School in McDonough. Demmitt said Clayton State's dual enrollment student population is "fairly divided" between Fayette, Clayton and Henry counties.
Demmitt said there are educational and financial benefits for a high school student if the student participates in a dual-enrollment program at a college or university.
"As college admissions are becoming more selective, students are looking for advantages to distinguish themselves in the competition to get into college," Demmitt said. "It also helps them get ahead. If a student can take 24 hours before they graduate from high school, that means they start out just shy of being a sophomore. That saves time, and decreases the number of years they'll be in college.
"It also gives them a taste of college while they are still in the comforts of a home environment," Demmitt said.
As for the overall enrollment growth at Georgia's universities and colleges, university system officials pointed to the increased spring enrollment, as well as a 6.6 percent increase in the number of students taking a full-time load across the system, as signs the faltering economy is driving more Georgia residents to seek higher education. There are 237,791 full-time college students in Georgia this semester.
Locally, Clayton State saw a 5.4 percent increase in its spring full-time enrollment, with 5,057 students taking course loads of 12 semester-hours or more. Shiffert said it is normal for a university's enrollment to go up when the economy begins to struggle because local residents want to improve their resumes.
University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll B. Davis, Jr., said the increased enrollment shows the importance of the state's colleges and universities as the nation struggles to achieve an economic recovery.
"There is no question that we are seeing significant increases in enrollment in what is typically the 'off' semester," Davis said in a written statement. "This is proof positive of what we have been seeing and hearing anecdotally: More and more Georgians are turning to the University System in these tough times in order to get the education needed to be marketable now, and in the future."