The University of North Georgia’s Oconee County campus could grow, but is stymied by maxed-out building space and the lack of a road, University of North Georgia President Bonita Jacobs told county leaders this week in a meeting pegged to economic development.
The school’s enrollment is slightly under 2,300, down from a few years earlier, but the campus may be even busier now because the number of full-time students has increased at the same time, explained UNG Oconee Campus Executive Director Cyndee Perdue Moore.
The campus has just one entrance, Bishop Farms Parkway off Georgia Highway 53 just outside Watkinsville. Traffic often gets backed up as drivers try to get their cars onto Highway 53, Jacobs told the leaders at Wednesday’s meeting. Among those attending were new Watkinsville Mayor Dave Shearon, Oconee County Administrator Justin Kirouac and county commissioners.
But an extension of Bishop Farms Parkway South could connect to New High Shoals Road near its intersection with U.S. Highway 441, giving the campus two entrances.
“We need to have that road,” Jacobs said.
Along with the road extension, the campus also needs more building space, Jacobs said.
What new academic programs might come to Oconee is yet to be determined.
“When we have that facility, we’ll be able to do more academic planning,” Jacobs said.
One possible addition to academic programs at Oconee and other campuses might be a tourism-related degree, she said.
With about 19,000 students on five campuses, the University of North Georgia is the state’s sixth-largest public university.
But UNG’s campuses differ markedly, Jacobs explained.
With about 7,000 students and 773 cadets, the Dahlonega campus is one of just six senior military campuses in the nation, she said.
The Gainesville campus, formerly Gainesville State College, is and will continue to be the largest campus, she said. The Oconee County campus was once part of Gainesville State, but five years ago Gainesville State and North Georgia College & State University merged to become the University of North Georgia.
UNG also has two smaller campuses in Blue Ridge, established in 2015, and Cumming, begun in 2012.
The Oconee campus is a two-year school, with most of its students planning to transfer to the University of Georgia, or other four-year institutions, she said.
About 250 Oconee County high school students are dually enrolled at UNG’s Oconee campus, she said.
Most of the Oconee campus students come from Oconee and four other nearby counties; about one in four students has a Pell Grant, federal aid available to students from low-income families, Moore said.
Oconee has no on-campus student housing, but is not a typical commuter college, Moore said as she led a tour of the campus after Jacobs’ talk.
The campus has seen about $750,000 in upgrades since May 1, including renovated science labs, and has added advising and tutoring capacity.
Walls in hallways and other areas have also been slightly altered to allow works of art to be hung permanently or temporarily, part of an effort to strengthen a feeling of community, Moore said.
The college has also built partnerships with organizations such as the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation, Jacobs said.
Even before the most recent changes, university officials were making “a concerted effort” to add features that make the campus more welcoming, such as small seating areas students might use to gather or study when they’re not in class, she said.
Because of incorrect information received, a previous version of this article misstated the location of a proposed second entrance to the campus. Under an earlier proposal, that would have been on U.S. Highway 441, but under a current proposal, that entrance would be from Bishop Farms Parkway South, connecting with New High Shoals Road near its intersection with U.S. Highway 441.