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Georgia Perimeter enrollment tracks economic climate

GPC Newton Campus academic advisor Jeff Meadors, left, informs students Jessica Nolley, right, of the college’s courses offered in the 2014-15 school year. The school’s student enrollment numbers are down from previous years, which college officials attribute — in part — to an improving economy. (Staff photo: Ryan McKenzie)

GPC Newton Campus academic advisor Jeff Meadors, left, informs students Jessica Nolley, right, of the college’s courses offered in the 2014-15 school year. The school’s student enrollment numbers are down from previous years, which college officials attribute — in part — to an improving economy. (Staff photo: Ryan McKenzie)

COVINGTON — Enrollment at Georgia Perimeter College’s Newton Campus is expected to hover around the 2,000 mark this fall, a number that has decreased from previous years.

The enrollment decline comes as no surprise to college officials, who say that the overall economy drives changes in enrollment.

“Enrollment at two-year colleges and community colleges tends to be counter-cyclical with the economy,” said GPC Interim President Rob Watts. “When the economy goes into recession, then people go back to school and enrollment spikes. When the economy turns around and people start getting jobs again, enrollment tapers off.”

Georgia Perimeter’s Newton Campus opened in 2007, just at the start of the recession. That year, college officials reported enrollment of about 1,800 students. By 2011, enrollment reached about 2,600 students before starting to decline. In 2013, the college reported a fall enrollment of 2,300; enrollment is expected to top out at 1,950 this fall.

Watts said other factors that have impacted enrollment include changes to the University System of Georgia admission standards in 2012 that made it more difficult for some students to attend college and changes in federal financial aid policy that tightened requirements.

In addition to traditional students, GPC serves a number of older students.

“We have a lot of students who have been out of school and are returning to school,” said Watts. “They are working adults, and we have been working with local businesses to make sure they are aware that this is an avenue for employees to get a college degree.”

Watts said there are about 800,000 people in metro Atlanta who have completed some college coursework.

“That’s a tremendous talent pool,” he said.

Georgia Perimeter, which was founded by the DeKalb County School System in 1964 as DeKalb Community College, will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

GPC, which is now the third-largest in the university system in terms of enrollment, has campuses in Clarkson, Decatur, Dunwoody and Alpharetta, in addition to Newton.

The Newton Campus generally serves students from Rockdale, Newton, Walton and Morgan counties.

Faculty members returned to campus on Monday and students are scheduled to return on Aug. 18.