With instructional sites spread far and wide across South Georgia, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College begins the 2018 fall semester on Wednesday with the highest enrollment in its 110-year history.
ABAC President David Bridges expects over 4,100 students to be enrolled when the final numbers are compiled. If history holds true, those students will be from 24 countries, 18 states, and 155 of Georgia’s 159 counties.
“We have come a long way since 27 students walked up the front steps of Tift Hall in 1908 to attend classes at the Second District Agricultural and Mechanical School,” Bridges, who begins his 13th fall semester as the ABAC President, said. “As an ABAC alumnus, I am proud to have been a part of that journey, both as a student and now as an administrator.
“It has been quite a ride. From adding four-year degrees 10 years ago to the merger with Bainbridge today, ABAC has transformed itself into a one-of-kind baccalaureate-degree granting institution that has a worldwide reputation for excellence.”
With the consolidation with the former Bainbridge State College complete, ABAC now offers classes in Tifton, Moultrie, Bainbridge, Blakely, and Donalsonville. Students choose between 12 different bachelor’s degrees on the Tifton campus and two different bachelor’s degrees on the Bainbridge campus. Associate degrees are also available at both locations.
“There’s no question in my mind that attending ABAC is a life-changing experience,” Bridges, the longest-serving president among the 26 colleges and universities in the University System of Georgia, said. “I believe that was the case in 1908, and I know it’s the case today.”
ABAC alumnus Ben Kennedy spoke at the annual Freshman Convocation on Tuesday morning before hundreds of bright-eyed first-year students in Gressette Gym. He endorsed Bridges’ declaration.
“My time at ABAC was amazing,” Kennedy, a very successful custom home-builder in Bluffton, S.C., said. “I use what I learned here on a daily basis to make a difference in the lives of others and in my own life.”
ABAC students spread across Tifton on Tuesday afternoon for the first annual Day of Service. Dean of Students Bernice Hughes impressed upon the students that it’s important to give back to the community, and from painting walls to odd jobs all over town, they did just that.
“Tifton is going to be these students’ home for the next four years,” Hughes said. “They are going to contribute to the community in the usual ways of buying gas and food but they also need to contribute in other humanitarian ways.”
The latest research shows ABAC had an economic impact of $369,874,664 on Tift and surrounding counties. One contributing factor to that figure is that ABAC houses over 1,300 students in modern, apartment-style complexes on campus. That’s more than the population of many small towns in Georgia.
“All of our students are eating in the restaurants, buying from the stores, and contributing to the local economy,” Bridges said. “Not to be dramatic, but can you imagine what Tifton would be like without the ABAC students plus all the ABAC employees and their families?
“And now you add Bainbridge and that Southwest Georgia corner of the state to the mix. ABAC’s economic impact when the next survey is conducted will be off the charts.”
ABAC’s previous enrollment high was in the fall term of 2007 when 3,665 students were enrolled. All those students were freshmen and sophomores because ABAC didn’t offer bachelor’s degrees at the time. Bridges said the number of students in four-year programs at ABAC should approach 2,200.