FAFSA Snafu Possibly Contributed to 8% Enrollment Drop
November 7, 2013

A paperwork snafu following the merger of two Georgia colleges may have contributed to an 8 percent enrollment decline, according to officials at Middle Georgia State College.

Middle Georgia State – the combination of Macon State College and Middle Georgia College – is the product of a round of mergers pushed by the University System of Georgia. When the first class of students to attend the merged college used the Free Application for Federal Student Aid this year, the online application presented them with these two choices: "Middle Georgia College, Cochran, GA" and "Middle Georgia State College, Macon Cam, Macon, GA.” Students who picked the first received their financial aid normally. Students who picked the second choice didn’t because the identifier was tied to an old school code.

Sheri Rowland, the head of enrollment management at Middle Georgia State, said the problem and resulting delays in offering aid awards caused some students and families to believe the college was providing poor customer service. That, in turn, may have cost the newly merged university some first-year students. “Because of this delay in processing, we wonder if students went elsewhere because they got notification of their financial aid in a much timelier fashion from other institutions than we were able to provide to them this year,” she said.

Rowland said the first-to-second-year retention rate was pretty good, but there was an 8 percent decline in first-year enrollment at the new institution compared to what the total enrollment had been at the two institutions before they merged, which was about 9,100 students. She said no one was at fault and the problem would not occur again.

Rowland said the FAFSA problems didn’t help, but were not the only problem. She said the college has had to rebrand and market itself in a totally different fashion since the merger. “It was a drastic enough difference that it just wasn’t tied to a bad recruiting year,” Rowland said.

The Georgia higher ed system has been pushing mergers since 2011. A recently announced merger of Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University is meeting strong opposition from students and alumni. On Wednesday, local news media reported an iconic globe in the center of Southern Poly campus had been toppled, apparently in an act of vandalism or protest linked to unrest after announcement of the merger.

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