ALBANY, GA (WALB) - "It's a four part process that basically details my call to action for Albany State," Jaylon O'Neal, a student at ASU, explained, as he pointed out notes on a pad of paper.
O'Neal has what he calls an 'Untouchable Plan.'
"The institution and the community have a very bitter disunion with each other," O'Neal said.
The Albany State student is hoping to fix that. He's proposing more campus interaction with community groups, like the Good Life Drum Circle, among other suggestions to preserve the university's history.
Administrators said they hear student's concerns.
"They have answers," Marion Fedrick, ASU Interim Executive Vice President, said. "They have questions, but they have answers with those questions. So, we're going to be listening to them a lot."
But that resource, the student body, is growing smaller as each semester passes.
Enrollment at Darton State College was dropping steadily between around one and ten percent each semester over the past several years, but plummeted by 24.7 percent last fall, as plans to consolidate were publicly being finalized.
Before this fall, Albany State's student body decreased by double digits six of the last eight semesters. Enrollment declined 7.6 percent this fall.
"Clearly, it is imperative that we continue to work on turning this enrollment trend around for the long term health of Albany State University," Charlie Sutlive, a spokesperson for the University System of Georgia, said. "That's why, when you look at the [university president] transition team we have in place, its heavily weighted with enrollment management experts."
University officials said the freshman class grew by 66 percent, which helped boost the enrollment total.
But when you compare previous Darton and ASU enrollment sums with the student body at the newly consolidated Albany State, enrollment has dropped more than a fourth, at -26.2% since Fall 2015, equaling a loss of more than 2,300 students.
Routine state audits of the university show other problems exist too.
Public records requests obtained by WALB show the school auxiliary funds related to housing and athletics are in a multimillion-dollar deficit.
The issues are something students said they're noticing.
"Trying to deal with housing, financial aid," Adrianna Malette, a student at Albany State, said. "It took them a while to accommodate more students, but they're slowly, but surely, trying to get it together."
University System of Georgia officials state that the overall financial health of Albany State is on par with previous years, at a positive net position of around $15.8 million, when the effects of pension liability are removed.
ASU officials noted educational operating reserves of $1.68 million and auxiliary reserves of $3.1 million to meet ongoing operational activities.
The auxiliary fund must sustain itself through student fees and other revenue sources.
Officials said the residence hall deficit of $3.89 million is caused by non-operating interest expense for housing units on both campuses, which they add is normal.
But the $2.6 million hole the athletics department is facing has been growing over the past decade and is affected by decreasing enrollment. Lower enrollment means fewer student fees are collected, and revenue sources don't meet costs.
It's one of the things officials said they're working to develop a multi-year plan to fix.
"More changes will be coming and it should all support, when you look at southwest Georgia, everything that's happening that we're doing right now to support Southwest Georgia."
Fixing financial aid
University officials said they're already beginning to see some of those changes, including in the financial aid office.
In Fiscal Year 2016, state audits revealed around 20 non-compliance violations in the financial aid office misallocating thousands of dollars. For 2017, though, there was just one noted.
"What we're doing in that area right now is probably what we should've been doing three, four or five years ago," Fedrick said. "So, that kind of change, where this is compliance, this is what we're supposed to be doing. They're holding them accountable to that. That brings a little pain sometimes."
Still, students claim there is work to be done.
"It's really challenging as an incoming freshman though," Kai'Lynn Bridges, another student at ASU, said. "Financial aid and the midterms getting piled up on you."
As issues get fixed, students said their lives get a little easier.
So, if they plan to stick around, with an average student personal spending level of estimated by USG in Fall 2015 of at least $7,326 each, the local economy will certainly welcome them.
"Let us know what's working, what's not working," Fedrick said. "Where do you see ASU in the next five years? We want to hear from people about that. We're going to be actually having conversations to get more and more of that information."
A conversation, that could help solve some of the campus' biggest issues, and benefit both students and the people they interact within the community on a daily basis.
Audit findings also state the university does not have a well-defined disaster recovery plan, when it comes to things like off-site storage of records, a clear line of communication or defined responsibilities of university officials.
University officials stated they agreed with the finding and that they will be creating a plan and documenting it by January 31, 2018.
Students have already been named to help be a part of the transition team preparing the university for the retirement of President Art Dunning.
As we worked on this story, we requested multiple times to get an on-camera interview with Albany State officials.
Our requests were denied. So, instead, we used a previous interview related to the story, public records requests and statements provided by the University System of Georgia.
A USG spokesperson did allow us to interview him on the phone specifically regarding enrollment.
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