Point University president speaks on college’s plans, future outlook

Published 12:00 pm Friday, November 3, 2023

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WEST POINT — Point University President Dean Collins talked about the changing nature of college education at Thursday’s noon hour meeting of the West Point Rotary Club. For some time now, there has been a declining birth rate in the U.S. The trend accelerated with the Covid pandemic.

This factor is affecting planning for future college admissions and the U.S. labor pool.

Another factor college officials are looking at is the fact that a growing number of high school graduates are looking past college and either joining the military or entering the workforce. College, in many cases, is being put off until later in life.

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“We keep hearing that an enrollment cliff is coming,” Collins said. “It’s something that’s taking place nationally, and it’s tied to the birth rate. It’s more important than ever to be innovative and creative in planning for the future.”

Collins said that major universities like the University of Georgia, Auburn and Alabama will do OK in future enrollment, but smaller schools like Point University along with many other colleges have to be concerned about the coming cliff.

Collins said he would love to have 1,000 or more students in Point’s traditional campus in West Point but is realistic that this probably won’t happen. The school is pretty stable at around 500 students, the vast majority of whom are athletes. Point has a total of 19 men and women’s sports. Women’s lacrosse was dropped in the last year and was replaced with women’s flag football.

“We are all excited about that,” Collins said. “There’s a great deal of interest in it. Our football team is improving, and we have good teams this year in men’s and women’s basketball.”

While enrollment for the traditional campus is fairly stable, Point is experiencing some explosive growth in its online courses. When the online students are figured in, Point has a current enrollment of more than 2,600 people.

“They are from all age groups,” Collins said. “We have people in their fifties and sixties taking online courses. Some are taking courses in areas where they have never been employed.”

Collins cited the example of a man named Hugo from Rockmart, Georgia who took some online courses just to check it out. After taking several of them, he qualified for college credit. He’s on course to graduate next year.

“He will be the first person in his family to earn a college degree,” Collins said. “He’s really excited about that. This is something that can lead to generational change. Future generations of his family can be college-educated, too.”

Collins said he became aware with how employers were concerned about the birth decline factor by talking to officials from local industries at local job fairs. Point representatives were there to talk to high school students about continuing their education at Point. Officials from Kia and its suppliers, Knauf, WestRock, Norbord, etc. were there to talk to them about coming to work in a local plant.

“They had the same problem colleges are facing,” he said. “With a declining birth rate, over time there will be fewer young people going to college and fewer ones entering the labor force.”

One worry many young people have in eyeing a possible college education is the debt they may take on in earning that degree. An online education is a means to avoid this. Point has a subscription program that allows students to pay as they go. This enables them to avoid a large amount of debt. They can earn certification in a given field, and possibly a college degree, without accumulating a lot of debt.

Collins said one issue he’s asked about a great deal is what is going on with the parking lot next to the J. Smith Lanier II Academic Center. Lots of questions were raised when for sale signs went up at the site. When they first went up, people wondered if the university itself was up for sale. The sign was repositioned to face West 10th Street to make it clear it was just the parking lot. Point owns the two-thirds portion of the lot that faces the street. The back one-third was privately owned for many years. The owner derived rental income for years off of that land, first from WestPoint Pepperell and more recently from Point University. The owner recently passed away and the property went into an estate.

In settling the estate, the site was turned over to a nonprofit. A realtor and a developer are now looking at building some townhouses on the site where Point students can live.

Point is in need of more student housing in the downtown West Point area. Some current students are living in the former Refuge Point Church site and in second-floor apartments on West 3rd Avenue above such businesses as Karvelas’s Pizza. There’s also a dorm across the state line in Lanett.

Collins is pleased for Point’s online courses to be as popular as they are. In the comfort of their home, the student can earn certification that can lead to good-paying job in a field such as project management, IT specialist or digital marketing. Those who do well in these programs may consider earning the college credits that can lead to a degree.

“Some people who have never seriously considered attending college have taken these online courses in our subscription program and find out they can do well,” Collins said. “They can earn hours of college credit that will lead to a degree.”

Collins is also pleased with the diversity of the student body. “We currently have 40 international students at Point University,” he said. “It’s good to have that kind of richness of diversity. We have students from all over the world.”

Collins said he recently played golf with a four-member team that had a woman student from Sweden.

“She was great,” he said. “She could drive the ball over 300 yards. Our sports teams are making an impact in the community.”

Collins is very excited about a grant Point has received from the Lilly Foundation. It’s for approximately $1.25 million and will be used to create a Center for Compelling Ministry.

“This will help pastors in our digital age,” he said. “To reach people in the world, we are living in today, pastors have to practice in a different way from what was done before. Our growth is on the online side, and we need to be attuned to that.”