Officials at Georgia Highlands College on Thursday said current enrollment for summer courses is up 27.5 percent from this point last summer -- 2,324 students are taking or are set to take courses this summer compared to 1,823 this time last year. The current number is also higher than last year's final summer enrollment of 2,238, though the final total could change if more students enroll or as they drop their classes by choice or due to nonpayment.
"All-in-all, signs are looking very good for a strong summer enrollment," said Ron Shade, vice president for Student Services at Georgia Highlands College. "We're not sure how it will shake down, but it will no doubt be significant over last year, the way things are appearing."
The school's Cartersville campus has so far logged the most summer pupils at 876, down only seven from this time last year; the site saw 1,059 students walk through its doors by the end of last summer's classes. GHC's Floyd campus in Rome has recorded the second-highest enrollment, with 801 students so far this summer.
This year's May Session classes began May 12 and end today, with exams held Tuesday. Full summer session and June Session classes begin June 7, with July Session classes beginning July 6.
Shade said he believes several factors are working to boost this year's numbers. One of them involves the school's current enrollment trend.
"We had a significantly larger body of students enrolled in the fall and spring terms than we did last year -- when you have an extra 500 or 600 students enrolled, a certain percentage of those are going to head on into the summer as existing students," Shade said.
The college in mid-January reported a winter semester enrollment of 5,185, up 10.7 percent over last winter's total of 4,685 at the same point during the semester. That number was only down slightly from the fall enrollment, which itself represented a nearly 12 percent increase from fall 2008.
Shade said he believes economic forces also are playing a big part in the increase.
"The second reason, the very real reason, is the scarcity of summer jobs this year for a significant category of students," he said. "The 18- to 24-year-olds are finding it more difficult to pick up decent summer jobs. I think that's fueling it a little bit.
"And then, of course, the tight job market. I think some that haven't realized before are realizing now that they're going to have to get a leg up to get into a position of some sort, so they're going back to school in some cases to pick up where they might have left off earlier, maybe they had stopped going when there were jobs," Shade added.
Preliminary numbers released Thursday from the Georgia Department of Labor showed that April was the 31st consecutive month that the state of Georgia's unemployment rate (10.4 percent) exceeded the national rate (9.9). However, the preliminary unemployment rate for northwest Georgia decreased to 10.5 percent from a revised 11.1 percent in March, a drop of six-tenths of a point. Bartow County was the only county out of 15 in the northwest Georgia area to see an increase in unemployment in April, going from March's 11.8 percent to 12.
Other possible factors contributing to the enrollment bump, Shade said, include the addition of the school's Paulding and Douglasville sites and increases in web-based course offerings.
"How much to attribute each [factor] to the total gain, it's hard to say," Shade said. "But when you take them all together, that's playing into it."
Summer students also may be coming from other colleges. Shade said pupils at other institutions may be choosing to take courses at access institutions like Georgia Highlands and other schools before a tuition increase takes effect this fall. The University System of Georgia Board of Regents earlier this month increased tuition rates at its member institutions.
Students attending one of the USG's four research universities -- Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Medical College of Georgia or the University of Georgia -- will see the largest increases in the system. Undergraduate students attending one of those schools will pay $3,535 per semester, an increase from fall 2009 of $500.
Students at Georgia Highlands and the other two-year colleges will see a $50 increase to $1,199 a semester, while those at other institutions will see higher tuition increases.