Earlier this year, the Georgia House of Representatives, under the leadership of UNG alumnus Speaker David Ralston, established the House Rural Development Council, which is challenging the state to increase economic development in Georgia’s rural communities. UNG supports this initiative because about 80 percent of our students come from a 30-county area in northeast Georgia, including many rural communities. As a regional university, it is inherent to our mission to increase educational attainment, enhance economic development, and promote job growth to provide opportunities for our graduates who want to live in this part of the state.
UNG has several initiatives focused on increasing educational attainment, including our dual-enrollment program for high school students, online graduate programs, and our first Regional Education and Economic Development Summit to highlight career opportunities in high-demand career fields.
As we serve an increasing number of students, UNG has growing facility needs, and the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and the legislature have been supportive. Last month, we broke ground for our new standalone campus in Blue Ridge, which is scheduled to open in 2020. Enrollment in Blue Ridge has experienced almost 800 percent growth since its opening in 2015, enrolling 156 students now. The new campus will allow for expanded courses, enabling students to spend a longer period of their college career at Blue Ridge. Also, plans are underway in Gainesville for renovations and expansion to the Lanier Technical College campus once it is vacated in the spring as they move to a new campus. We very grateful to our state leaders for their continued support and investment in UNG.
To increase the college completion rate in northeast Georgia, we know we must continue to assist students with their finances. If a student drops out due to financial struggles, the odds of completion diminish significantly. We are working to provide students with other viable options to remain in school, including the creation of food banks on three of our campuses, financial education through our Student Money Management Center, and increased scholarships.
We are grateful to so many who support scholarships for students at UNG. Whether giving directly to a specific scholarship, participating in OconeeFest—which raised nearly $16,000 this fall for scholarships for students from Oconee County to attend any UNG campus, or attending our foundation’s annual Scholarship Gala, your support is vital. In the past 5 years, we have awarded more than $7 million in scholarships to deserving students. This year, the Scholarship Gala will be held on March 29, 2019, at the Dahlonega Campus.
I am proud of the work UNG is doing as a leading regional university to increase educational attainment and to improve economic growth in northeast Georgia. These efforts will make a difference in the lives of our students, their families, our communities, and the region for generations to come.
Bonita C. Jacobs, Ph.D.