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UNG breaks ground on standalone Blue Ridge Campus

Blue Ridge groundbreaking Speaker Ralston
Georgia Speaker of the House of Representatives David Ralston addresses the crowd Oct. 17 at the groundbreaking for UNG's new standalone Blue Ridge Campus. Ralston helped secure $5.5 million in the 2019 fiscal year budget for the campus.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) broke ground Oct. 17 on a new standalone Blue Ridge Campus facility, with a host of state officials, community members and university representatives joining President Bonita C. Jacobs to mark the occasion.

The sunny fall day in the Fannin County mountains matched the excitement about the opportunities the new facility will offer for current and future students, as 150 people celebrated the groundbreaking. The new campus, located off Ga. 515 about three miles from the current Blue Ridge Campus, is scheduled to open in 2020.

Georgia Speaker of the House of Representatives David Ralston, a UNG alumnus who represents Georgia District 7, including Fannin County, in the General Assembly, helped secure $5.5 million for the new Blue Ridge Campus in the 2019 fiscal year budget. He said Gov. Nathan Deal's trek to Blue Ridge in May to sign the budget was the city's first time hosting such a visit. Ralston called the new campus "a dream come true."

"This new, permanent campus in Blue Ridge will open doors to both a college education and better job prospects for generations to come in our north Georgia mountains," Ralston said. "UNG's role to provide greater access to quality education will continue to expand, and I am proud to support that noble mission."

Jacobs presented Ralston with a commemorative shovel in gratitude for his efforts in securing the standalone campus. She thanked the community, the University System of Georgia, and state and local lawmakers for making the standalone campus possible. She noted how the Blue Ridge Scholars program encourages students to be enrolled full time.

"We're all in on graduating students," Jacobs said. "We are creating a workforce that appeals to businesses and supports economic growth in this community."

The current Blue Ridge Campus has experienced almost 800 percent growth since its opening in 2015, reaching 156 students this fall. It will allow for additional courses in the core curriculum, which means students will be able to spend a longer period of their college career at Blue Ridge.

Nelson Soriero, a freshman from Blue Ridge and a Blue Ridge Scholar, said the new campus "will create an excellent learning environment for generations to come."

"I could have ended up somewhere else, traveling endless miles and hours to a different university," Soriero said. "But because of this campus, I get to go to college locally, continue working at my job and even live in my own home."

UNG established the Blue Ridge Campus in 2015 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. The new location will further cement UNG's efforts in the region.

"This campus is bringing a college education much closer to home for a large number of students in the north Georgia area," said state Sen. Steve Gooch, also a UNG alumnus. "I'm excited to be a part of this development and look forward to watching the impact of this campus continue to increase."

In 2012, the state launched the Complete College Georgia initiative based on 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 nearly half of the counties in UNG's immediate service area have a college completion rate of less than 20 percent.

"This campus will make a difference in the lives of students, their families, this community, and region for generations," Blue Ridge Campus Director Sandy Ott said. "Thank you for being a part of the University of North Georgia's history and the brighter futures that begin here today."

Blue Ridge groundbreaking 2
Representatives of the University of North Georgia, state officials and community members celebrated the groundbreaking of a new standalone Blue Ridge Campus on Oct. 17.

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