Dr. Myung-Hoon Kim, chemistry professor at Georgia Perimeter College Dunwoody, instructs Nancy Kim during a titration experiment on June 28.

In the midst of ongoing economic strife, enrollment at Georgia Perimeter College continues to grow. In Dunwoody, host of the college’s largest student body, that means both an economic and a cultural boost.

GPC Dunwoody currently employs 426 people. With registration still open for the summer semester’s second half, 4,695 students are currently enrolled at the Dunwoody Campus.

The college as a whole has seen a record summer enrollment of 16,900 students this year. Margaret Ehrlich, Dean of Academics for Georgia Perimeter College’s Dunwoody Campus, believes the surge in enrollment has been fueled by students hoping to make the most of HOPE Scholarship funds before sweeping cuts to the program take effect in the fall.

“We feel like a lot of our increase in enrollment for the summer,” she says, “are students who are capitalizing on their HOPE for the summer and trying to get more hours in while it’s still preserved at last year’s rate.”

Lab partners Sarah Kates, left, and Nancy Kim conduct chemical reactions during class. Sarah transferred from Savannah College of Art and Design, and now plans to work in marine biology.

Although cuts to HOPE benefits may be bad news for Georgia students, they could mean more revenue for Dunwoody businesses, as more students turn to GPC as an inexpensive means to complete core classes and electives while pursuing four-year degrees at more expensive Georgia universities.

“If you are using your HOPE funds to go to [the University of Georgia], you’re going to use up a lot of your HOPE funds because we’re cheaper. They’re probably three or four times our cost,” says Ehrlich. “There are plenty of parents out there who… might encourage students to go to GPC their first year because then their use of the HOPE funds are less.”

According to the most recent annual Georgia Perimeter College Impact Report, GPC’s Dunwoody Campus has generated an estimated economic impact of $46,712,578 in salaries, services and consumption by students and employees in 2010 out of nearly a half billion dollars generated in the metro area by the college as a whole.

GPC’s economic impact on the city of Dunwoody goes beyond dollars and cents, though.

The Dental Hygiene Department headquartered in the Dunwoody Campus offers a variety of services to the public, ranging from routine cleaning to dental x-rays, at discounted rates. For those with an interest in astronomy, the campus has a fully functioning observatory open to the public every second Saturday of the month, or by appointment, free of charge. The campus hosts cultural events such as the recent Jazz on the Lawn festival as well as student theater performances staged throughout the year.

“We’re trying to open our doors and let the community know that they are welcome,” says Norvell Jackson, Dean of student Services for the Dunwoody Campus.

Outside the campus, GPC students and faculty also work to support the community. Last year, students, faculty and even GPC President Anthony Tricoli participated in the school’s Clean up Dunwoody event, where volunteers picked up litter throughout the community. Jackson says another such event is being planned for this year, though no date has been set.

Throughout the spring, GPC students have also done volunteer work with senior citizens at Waterford Gardens, an assisted living facility on North Shallowford Road and participated with local national entities to promote recycling as part of an Earth Day event.

For some Dunwoody residents, though, GPC’s most visible impact on the community is the bottleneck that can slow traffic to a crawl on Tilly Mill Road when students flood in and out of the campus parking lots, especially during the first weeks of classes.

“There is a two week period at the beginning of each fall and spring that [traffic] seems to really be crazy,” Ehrlich admits.

The college, however, has adjusted class schedules and worked with the city to find ways to minimize congestion around the campus. These adjustments, says Ehrlich, coupled with heightened efforts by the school’s public safety department to keep vehicles moving on campus have greatly relieved traffic problems.

“The backup that you saw on Tilly Mill is not happening anymore. [Public safety] has done a tremendous job getting students off of the road and onto the campus,” says Ehrlich. “We’ve had a lot less complaints.”

The community and the college are committed to working together to address ongoing issues like traffic and sustainability, through Town and Gown Committee Meetings held quarterly in the community.

This spirit of cooperation is important, as Ehrlich expects GPC’s prominence as a crossroads for Georgia students with a variety of educational aspirations will continue to grow in the coming years.

“GPC is beginning to be like Hartsfield Jackson [International Airport is to air travel],” she says. “If you go to college anywhere in the state of Georgia, some time, sooner or later, you pass through Georgia Perimeter College.”

Click to read a Q and A with GPC President Tricoli