GPC ready to look past cuts, toward growth

COVINGTON -- More cuts may come for Georgia Perimeter College, but Interim President Rob Watts wants to move forward as the school year begins again this month.

When students return on Monday, Watts said enrollment may be down some compared to last year, but it's on a good trend.

The University System of Georgia projected earlier this month that enrollment across some of its 35 colleges may remain flat or decrease slightly this year, and Watts said GPC is seeing just that, although he doesn't have any hard figures yet.

He said the economy has played a role in enrollment drops, as well as new requirements from USG that prevented some students in remedial courses from enrolling this year.

"But we're showing good enrollment trends for all campuses," Watts said about preliminary outlooks. "We're starting the school year with much enthusiasm."

The college is the third largest institution of the USG. It serves approximately 27,000 students through four campuses in Clarkston, Decatur, Dunwoody and Newton, as well as several sites in metro Atlanta, including an Alpharetta center and partnerships at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers and the Newton College & Career Academy in Covington.

Over the summer, GPC had to reduce its staff of 3,000 by nearly 300 employees, including 26 staff members at the Newton campus.

Watts said he hopes the college can get past the cuts and look ahead to a new academic year. He was appointed in May, after USG announced that the college could face a $25 million deficit.

Watts said that he doesn't have a timeline yet for anymore administrative changes, since the USG chancellor will make that decision.

He told staff members last week upon their return that the college could face sanctions, warnings or additional monitoring because of ongoing financial problems when its accrediting agency does its review.

Additionally, the state has told colleges to be prepared for a 3 percent cut, but Watts said he doesn't have any details of how that will work out yet and expects the college leadership to delve more into that after registration is over for the semester.

Even with the cuts, Watts said new programs at GPC are being developed. These include bachelor degrees in Sign Language Interpreting and Health Informatics, as previously approved by USG. Additionally, the college is still in discussions about a bachelor's degree in nursing.

Watts said the college is excited about partnering with Baxter International, a bio-pharmaceutical manufacturing facility that plans to build a facility in nearby Stanton Springs. As noted in discussions with leaders, Watts said once the facility is closer to opening, the college is open to implementing more programs that will help serve its workforce.

"It's a growing campus," Watts said about the Newton campus. "We look forward to developing it. As the campus grows, it will require additional buildings, as we run out of space. I do expect enrollment to grow in the future."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.