On Aug. 13, the University of North Georgia officially opened its new campus in Blue Ridge, Georgia, to expand higher education options in the region. Participating in the ribbon-cutting ceremony were UNG President Bonita C. Jacobs; University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby; and Sen. Steve Gooch and Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, both of whom represent Blue Ridge in the state legislature and are UNG alumni.
"UNG has a strong history of academic excellence and student success, and we are very excited about the opportunities this campus presents for students in this area to complete college," Jacobs said. "While we have students from 46 states, we know that about 85 percent of our students come from a 30-county area in northeast Georgia, and this campus helps UNG fulfill its mission as a regional university to increase educational opportunity that leads to economic development."
Establishment of the Blue Ridge Campus comes in response to a need for access to higher education that was identified through UNG's Regional Education and Economic Development Task Force, a group of more than 100 business, education, government and community leaders from northeast Georgia. This spring, the state legislature and the University System of Georgia (USG) Board of Regents approved $943,000 in the Fiscal Year 2016 operating budget to establish UNG's Blue Ridge Campus.
"Today's opening of the UNG Blue Ridge instruction site is an historic occasion in that it makes access to affordable, quality higher education in this part of Georgia permanent," said Speaker of the House David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge). "This facility will allow students to further their education at one of Georgia's best universities and prepare them to compete in the workforce with confidence."
In 2012, the state launched the Complete College Georgia initiative based upon a 2011 study by Georgetown University that indicates Georgia needs to add 250,000 postsecondary graduates to the state's workforce by 2025. Census data indicate that nearly half of the counties in the UNG's immediate service area have a college completion rate of less than 20 percent.
"On behalf of the University System of Georgia, I'm excited to be a part of this historic day for the University of North Georgia, as we mark its expanded presence in the northeastern part of our state," said USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby. "Studies show college graduates have the opportunity to earn $1 million more over their lifetime than those with a high school diploma alone, and by opening this campus, we're bringing economic opportunity to more Georgians and supporting our mission to graduate more students to meet workforce demands."
Through the Blue Ridge Campus, which is located at 83 Dunbarton Road, UNG plans to offer a variety of educational pathways that include dual-enrollment courses, a full-time program for first-time freshmen with courses that will enable students to complete degrees in regional high-demand disciplines, courses for adult learners getting started in college or returning college to complete a degree, and continuing and professional education programs for career growth or personal enrichment.
In 2016, UNG plans to establish an innovative two-year program that is expected to become the signature element of UNG's Blue Ridge Campus. Students in the program will attend full- time and participate in an interdisciplinary curriculum that will take advantage of the region's resources to promote learning in and out of the classroom and the support the timely attainment of degrees.
"This is a big day for Fannin County," Sen. Steve Gooch said. "We're literally opening the floodgates when we cut the ribbon to open this facility -- the information, the resources, the technology and the opportunities for young people to come and learn. They won't have to drive down the mountain to Dahlonega, Athens, Atlanta or wherever, they can stay home and get an education. It's going bring ecomomic development opportunities to the area as well and I'm just proud to be a part of it and share it with the community."
Also recognized during the Aug. 13 ribbon-cutting ceremony were Chasity Green, the first student enrolled at UNG's Blue Ridge Campus, and Cassandra "Sandy" Ott, who will serve as assistant director of the campus.
With nearly 17,000 students and campuses in Cumming, Dahlonega, Gainesville, and Oconee County, UNG is one of the state's largest public universities. UNG has been recognized nationally for its academic excellence and economic value, including being named one of the top five public universities in Georgia on Money magazine's list of "Best Colleges" in 2014.
Also, as one of only six federally-designated senior military colleges in the United States, UNG is The Military College of Georgia, and its leadership development experiences have earned it designation as a state leadership institution by the USG Board of Regents.