State Farm gives $20 million to boost DeKalb education, college completion. Partners with Georgia State.

Georgia State University President Mark Becker and State Farm CEO Michael Tipsord will announce a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership this morning. State Farm is donating $20 million to help GSU and the south DeKalb community improve education and college completion rates.

GSU will receive $14.5 million, while $5.5 million will go to non-profits and local schools to provide additional services to help students succeed.

The donation to GSU will focus on  students at the university’s Decatur campus of Perimeter College. Many attendees there are low-income and first-generation college students.

The pair explain the partnership's purpose and goals in this joint column.

By Mark Becker and Michael Tipsord

Despite the best efforts of America’s higher education community, the nation has been unable to markedly increase the number of college graduates, particularly among students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. It’s time for a new model.

Georgia State University and State Farm recognize how crucial college completion and ongoing learning is to our country’s economic future. Successfully competing in a rapidly changing marketplace is dependent on the capabilities of a skilled workforce. That’s why we are joining together in an innovative public-private partnership to implement a first-of-its-kind program to help two-year college students succeed.

Georgia State’s Learning, Income and Family Transformation (LIFT) program will offer a unique group of support services to community college students by predicting, addressing and resolving obstacles to college completion, sometimes even before the affected students know that the obstacles exist.

State Farm is providing $20 million to bring this effort to life. With $14.5 million in support, Georgia State LIFT will bring the university’s pioneering data analytics work to students enrolled in two-year degree programs at the university’s Decatur campus of Perimeter College. And, the remaining $5.5 million will go to non-profits and local schools to provide additional services to help students succeed. This puts the focus squarely on students at the entry point of their college careers.

This program is particularly important in Decatur and South DeKalb County, home to many first-generation college students with fewer resources to fall back on when they face the challenges of the college experience.

Georgia State has been analyzing trends in students’ grades for clues that will predict when students are heading toward academic trouble. The university’s data-driven program tracks students’ progress across hundreds of indicators and enables it to identify the help they need to keep them on track for graduation.

Tuition costs also were causing more than a thousand students to drop out each semester. But when Georgia State looked behind the numbers, it learned only a relatively small amount, often a few hundred dollars, was creating big problems for some students. The solution? Small grants and financial planning assistance, interventions that last year cut the expected dropout rate by almost half.

The results of these data-driven programs have been remarkable. Georgia State graduates 1,700 more students annually than it did just five years ago. The number of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees awarded to African-American students rose by 69 percent, to Hispanic students by 226 percent. Last year, Georgia State became the only national university at which black, Hispanic, first-generation and low-income students graduated at rates at or above the rate of the student body overall. Georgia State LIFT will bring these and many other programs to students at the Decatur campus of Perimeter College.

State Farm, through its Education Assist program, will provide the resources critical to implementing this ambitious initiative. It will fund a series of full-ride scholarships for deserving students, expand staff support in offices critical to student success and support emergency grants to help students cover life’s necessities. It will fund a mentoring program to allow students who have succeeded help other students to do the same and support financial literacy programming for both students and families in South DeKalb communities.

State Farm employees and agents will volunteer their time and expertise to these programs and will support students through professional development and networking opportunities.

Georgia State and State Farm are applying new ways of thinking to these issues by providing a new model for public-private partnerships. By combining Georgia State’s expertise in designing and implementing some of the most innovative and effective student-support programs in the nation with State Farm’s resources and commitment to the community, we will transform lives.

We hope colleges, universities and businesses around the nation will learn and benefit from this effort. Strong, collaborative partnerships can remove barriers to college completion and learning, and help produce the students our nation needs to grow and thrive in an increasingly uncertain, complex and connected world.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.