ALBANY -- Although Albany State University's enrollment has increased by almost 600 students since fall 2006 to more than 4,500 students, President Everette Freeman believes the four-year institution's numbers could be even larger.
"Frankly, we should be at 7,000, but in some ways it's good we're not there because we didn't have the (classroom) space for them," Freeman said Tuesday during his talk to the Rotary Club of Dougherty County.
ASU's eighth president discussed the enrollment figures while he was going over an update to the university's master plan, which was first unveiled last year. Closing small academic buildings in the flood plain, turning the ridge area of the campus into a student activity center and making the upper campus into an academic area were some of the ideas proposed in the plan.
However, Freeman said he was happy that a 2007 plan to destroy Andrews Residence Hall never materialized. The former male dormitory now houses Albany Early College students, a partnership between ASU and the Dougherty County School System. The program aims to help economically disadvantaged students become first-generation college graduates.
"When I leave here, I'll probably be most proud of this," he said. "This is something you can't replicate (because of) the young minds that are being helped."
Businesses like Starbucks and Chick-fil-A were some of the companies Freeman said could be part of the university's new student center, which he said will "wrap around the current dining hall." He said the food menu will feature more "grab-and-go" options and a grill.
Freeman, a 19-year educator, also told the Rotarians about his hopes that state funding for the long-awaited $26 million Ray Charles Fine Arts Building will come through.
"I'm hopeful that the design funding will come in this year and that we'll be able to start in July," he said. "With a lot of hope and prayers from Rotarians, we can start the construction of the project the next summer. ... We can create 440 jobs, not just at ASU but through construction (and other projects). I'm hopeful the funding will emerge."
Having a larger presence downtown was another point Freeman stressed as part of Albany State's future growth.
"Our master plan is to do more with the city," he said. "We're always looking for ways to not only partner with Dougherty County schools, but any entities within the city."
Trying to educate more veterans, more non-traditional students, provide more online educational opportunities and late-night classes were other plans Freeman discussed to enhance the university's growth and regional presence.
At the end of his talk, Freeman complimented the community for its support of Albany State and thanked in particular Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission Chairman Bobby McKinney, Albany Herald Publisher Mike Gebhart and Chehaw Executive Director and Rotary President-Elect Doug Porter.
Lily Pad Director Karen Kemp thanked Freeman during the question-and-answer session for Albany State providing four to five interns for the Albany nonprofit organization that helps victims of physical and sexual abuse, neglect or those who have observed violent crimes. She also asked Freeman if the contemplated downtown ASU bookstore was still on the horizon.
"We did have some resistance (to the idea) that we didn't create," Freeman said. "We have had some talks to go downtown with some administrative offices and a bookstore. It's still on the table."
In the next several weeks, the Rotary Club of Dougherty County plans to have more Albany educational leaders as featured luncheon speakers. Joe Dan Banker, who introduced Freeman at the luncheon and who's in charge of Rotary programs, said the club will be inviting Darton College President Peter Sireno, Albany Technical College President Anthony Parker and retiring Dougherty County School System Superintendent Sally Whatley in the next several weeks.