120,000 Georgia high school seniors to get direct college admissions letter

Gov. Brian Kemp announces the launch of Georgia Match, a direct college admissions program for high school seniors, at the Freight Depot in Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. (Olivia Bowdoin for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

Gov. Brian Kemp announces the launch of Georgia Match, a direct college admissions program for high school seniors, at the Freight Depot in Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. (Olivia Bowdoin for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Every Georgia high school senior should soon receive a letter telling them which of the state’s public colleges they have the grades to get into.

The new direct admissions initiative, dubbed Georgia Match, is a push to get seniors — many of whom haven’t considered applying to college — to continue their education in the state after graduation.

Starting Tuesday, the state plans to mail all public and private school 12th graders — more than 120,000 students total — a personalized letter that lists all 22 schools within the Technical College System of Georgia that are “holding a spot” for them in fall 2024. Students with at least a 2.0 high school grade-point average in core courses also will see schools within the University System of Georgia that they’re academically eligible to attend. The letter will prompt students to request information from the colleges they’re interested in and to complete their application at no cost in November.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced the program at a workforce summit Thursday. He framed it as a crucial step to improving the state’s workforce development by training young people for high-paying jobs.

“This is just the latest example of our commitment to going after every student in our state, and we’re going to make sure that they know there’s an opportunity for an affordable, quality education ... here in our home state,” Kemp said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported on the direct admissions strategy in April. Thursday’s launch puts Georgia in the company of a growing number of college systems and states, including Idaho and Minnesota, that offer conditional or guaranteed college acceptance to students upfront instead of waiting for them to apply.

In Georgia, the college spots offered to seniors are contingent on graduating from high school and, for University System schools, completing required high school courses.

The higher a student’s grades, the more schools will appear on the personalized list. A student with a 3.4 grade-point average is eligible for admission to all 23 participating University System schools, including Augusta and Georgia State universities.

The state’s three most-selective schools — Georgia College & State University, Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia — won’t be listed because getting in requires more than just good grades, including an ACT or SAT test score.

About 120,000 Georgia high school seniors will soon receive a letter from Georgia Match, a direct college admissions program for high school seniors. (Olivia Bowdoin for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

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Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

More than 1,000 high school counselors have received training about how to guide students once they receive the letter, state officials said. High schools also will receive a copy of each student’s notification. The state will track how many students apply to college and enroll once they receive the letter.

State officials also asked high schools to email families about the program and post about it on social media so that students don’t accidentally toss the envelope with its blue, green and orange Georgia Match logo.

Officials hope it will lead to growth at both two- and four-year public colleges. Enrollment in technical colleges and University System schools fell during the COVID-19 pandemic, but early numbers show a rebound this fall.

About 7% of students enroll in a Georgia technical college just after graduating from high school. TCSG Commissioner Greg Dozier thinks Georgia Match can push those numbers higher by attracting students to programs that can be completed in just one semester or within two years.

“We’d love to see that double and go higher,” he said in a phone interview.

In 2021, about 40% of Georgia’s 110,794 public high school graduates entered the workforce or their next step was unknown to state data trackers. That’s the group that University System Chancellor Sonny Perdue said the state’s public colleges should try to recruit.

“We think just that letter will spark them to say, ‘Hey, somebody thinks I can go to college, and I’m qualified,’” Perdue said in a Thursday phone interview.

Students who hadn’t planned for college may need more support once they’re on campus.

Only 17% of students pursuing an associate degree graduate within three years, according to the most recent University System data. And 63% of students receive a bachelor’s degree within six years.

“Our goal is not just getting them there, but helping them to be retained, to be successful and get a diploma and change their lives,” Perdue said. “If we get them there and get them student debt or whatever and are not successful in getting them graduated, we’ve done them a disservice.”

Business leaders also praised the new admissions strategy. In an online post, Georgia Chamber of Commerce President Chris Clark said it gives students “an unprecedented opportunity” to learn skills and earn a degree.

The first year of the Georgia Match initiative is estimated to cost the Georgia Student Finance Commission, the program’s spearhead, $1.3 million for marketing, printing, mailing and other expenses.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.