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State legislature earmarks $5.5 million for UNG standalone campus in Blue Ridge

University of North Georgia President Bonita Jacobs, left, and Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, center, applaud as Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed the state budget May 2 at the Blue Ridge Mountains Art Association Center in downtown Blue Ridge. The budget includes funding for UNG campus expansions in Blue Ridge and Dahlonega.

The University of North Georgia's (UNG) Blue Ridge Campus will move and expand to serve its rising enrollment numbers in Fannin County and the northeast Georgia region.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Speaker of the House David Ralston, a UNG alumnus who represents Fannin County in the legislature, announced funding for the new campus May 2 at the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Funds for the new plan are part of the $26 billion state budget Deal signed in ceremonies in Atlanta, Acworth, Blue Ridge, Statesboro, and Tifton.

"We appreciate and are grateful to the support we have received from the state legislature," UNG President Bonita C. Jacobs said. "We are elated at this opportunity and know the educational impact UNG will have on this region will be felt in Fannin County and throughout this region for generations."

The state budget has earmarked $5.5 million in a 20-year bond for land acquisition, design, construction, and equipment for the Blue Ridge Campus. It will be located less than four miles from the current campus on land east of Industrial Parkway off Ga. 515.

"The fiscal year 2019 budget will maintain Georgia’s position as a national leader in conservative fiscal management while further solidifying our commitment to providing all children with greater access to quality education and continuing our efforts to build an infrastructure system that supports our growing population," Deal said in a news release about the budget signings.

The new, larger UNG campus will feature classroom space, technology resources and labs for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields to serve about 500 students, UNG Blue Ridge Campus Director Sandy Ott said. It will also have support facilities for students, faculty, and staff. UNG currently leases a 3,600-square-foot facility at 83 Dunbarton Farm Road that does not offer lab space and has limited space for student use.

"The new campus will open so many doors including expanded course offerings, workforce development, and Professional and Continuing Education opportunities to serve the region," Ott said.

More importantly, the additional classroom space will allow UNG to serve its growing population.

When the Blue Ridge Campus opened in August 2015, it welcomed 18 students. In the fall 2017, it enrolled about 151 students, marking a 738 percent increase.

"We’ve had significant growth," Ott said. "And we are anticipating more growth in fall 2018."

The Blue Ridge Campus offers a variety of educational pathways that include dual-enrollment courses for high school students, a full-time program for first-time freshmen with courses enabling them 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.

Its establishment came in response to a need for access to higher education identified through UNG's Regional Education and Economic Development (REED) Task Force, a group of more than 100 business, education, government and community leaders from northeast Georgia.

With more than 18,000 students and campuses in Blue Ridge, Cumming, Dahlonega, Gainesville, and Oconee, 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 nation's "best value colleges" by Forbes magazine in April 2018. UNG is one of only six Senior Military College in the United States and is designated as the Military College of Georgia.

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