AJC On Campus: Atlanta HBCUs conduct weekly testing; Mastercard’s $5 million grant

The Atlanta University Center is home to the city's private historically Black colleges & universities. Eric Stirgus/estirgus@ajc.com.

The Atlanta University Center is home to the city's private historically Black colleges & universities. Eric Stirgus/estirgus@ajc.com.

It’s been about a month since the fall semester began at Atlanta-area college and universities, and the coronavirus pandemic is continuing to prompt adjustments by some schools.

In this edition of AJC On Campus, we report on COVID-19 testing requirements at local colleges and universities. We also take a look at a group of state lawmakers studying one of the biggest costs to students attending the state’s University System, how one college is trying to help Afghan refugees and diversity developments at another university.

Atlanta HBCUs move to weekly COVID-19 testing

Atlanta’s historically Black colleges and universities have enacted what administrators say are the most stringent, yet necessary measures to prevent a coronavirus outbreak on their campuses since the pandemic began 18 months ago.

Last year, the four private schools went to remote learning while most area colleges reopened their classrooms. The HBCUs also required students be vaccinated to be on campus this fall, unless they get an exemption.

The latest step took place last week when the schools began required weekly COVID-19 testing of all students and employees on campuses.

Officials said they made the move because of the current surge in local and statewide positivity rates, as well as the highly contagious delta variant, even in vaccinated individuals. Georgia has the fourth-highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations among 18- to 29-year-olds, federal data shows.

Morehouse and Spelman colleges posted some details about the testing on their websites. They are conducting rapid antigen tests, which reports results within 15 minutes. Some students and employees will be chosen randomly each week to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which is considered a more thorough test for the virus.

The schools — Morehouse, Spelman, Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse School of Medicine — are adjacent to each other and part of the Atlanta University Center. The center’s most recent testing data online shows two positive COVID-19 results out of 1,406 tests taken between Sept. 6-13, a week before the testing began. The numbers do not include self-reported positive cases.

The center’s executive director, Michael Hodge, said the additional testing is a preventative measure.

“This is being done to make sure we capture any potential outbreaks,” Hodge told us. “We want to make sure everyone feels safe and secure through the protocols we have on campus.”

A Morehouse spokeswoman added the college wants to remain a “safe zone,” noting each AUC school is implementing a similar testing protocol.

Representatives from each of the four schools are scheduled to hold a virtual town hall Tuesday evening to discuss their response to the pandemic.

Mastercard invests in local HBCUs

Mastercard last week announced it’s providing grants totaling $5 million to Morehouse and Spelman colleges for a planned Center for Entrepreneurship at the schools.

The money is coming from Mastercard’s Impact Fund, a $500 million, five-year commitment to advance racial equity and expand access to capital and resources for Black-owned businesses.

Mastercard’s grant will support the hiring of adjunct faculty, the creation of an online entrepreneurship program and experiential courses. Spelman plans to house it’s center in its new academic facility, the Center for Innovation & the Arts, and Morehouse will house it within a new facility on campus.

Other companies who’ve committed funding for the center include Blackstone.

Clark Atlanta plans to resume in-person classes

Clark Atlanta University officials are planning to resume in-person instruction this week, a week after going to remote learning.

The school last Monday went to virtual instruction, citing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, and to strengthen safety protocols on campus. Officials said at the time the move would be temporary.

Georgia Senate leaders review high student fees

A state Senate committee met Wednesday for the first of several meetings to review a longstanding complaint among many college students and parents in Georgia: student fees.

Students at eight University System of Georgia schools pay more than $1,000 a semester in mandatory fees. There are fees for health services, to use athletics facilities and to fund their programs, fees for travel and other expenses and fees for technology.

The largest fee, which draws the most complaints, is the “special institutional fee,” established in 2009 when the system’s budget was cut significantly amid the Great Recession. State Sen. Sally Harrell, D-Atlanta, noted that fee is $544 this year at Georgia Tech, where her child attends.

No fees were increased this school year.

Acting University System of Georgia Chancellor Teresa MacCartney, left, speaks with state senators during a Sept. 15, 2021 committee meeting to discuss mandatory fees for students. (Screenshot)

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Much of the hourlong meeting was spent discussing acronym: PPVs. Acting University System of Georgia Chancellor Teresa MacCartney said many fees are driven by paying debt service on several public-private ventures. There are nearly 60 such projects currently funded through mandatory fees, she told the committee. Those fees are important at smaller colleges and universities experiencing enrollment declines.

MacCartney noted five USG schools haven’t raised their fees in five years. Still, the acting chancellor said the system could do better on this front. For example, MacCartney told the committee they’re looking for ways to get more student involvement on advisory committees.

More meetings are coming.

Helping Afghan refugees

Georgia Piedmont Technical College is offering free English courses to Afghan refugees, officials announced last week.

Georgia Piedmont is the only school that receives federal funding to provide English classes for these individuals. The college’s main campus is in the Clarkston area, which has become a destination for refugees from many parts of the globe in recent decades.

Georgia Piedmont Technical College on Thursday, January 30, 2020, in Clarkston. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

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“Part of the mission of the Adult Education Division at GPTC is to offer English classes and serve individuals who have little to no understanding of the English language. That is the norm,” Meghan McBride, vice president of adult education at GPTC, said in a statement. “But providing these services to what may be hundreds of people due to a violent uprising in their home country is a different story. Many of them flee their countries with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.”

Emory’s diversity moves

Emory University announced last week it has received a $5 million grant from the Southern Company Foundation to establish the Emory University School of Law Center for Civil Rights and Social Justice.

The foundation also is contributing $2 million to Emory University to support other student initiatives through Emory College and Winship Cancer Center. Read more about the grant here.

Earlier this month, Emory opened its Asian Student Center, an idea that came from a group of students two years ago.

“They made a strong case that they need space to explore their own cultures and backgrounds, a place for advocacy and activism. We agreed with them, and President Fenves set the wheels in motion.,” Dona Yarbrough, assistant vice president of Campus Life, said on the university’s website.

Nearly 18% of Emory’s students are Asian, according to data on its website. Asian American Pacific Islander and Desi American are the largest non-white racial demographic group at Emory, the state’s largest private university.

Coming up

Kennesaw State University is set Thursday to celebrate the naming of the Norman J. Radow College of Humanities and Social Sciences and recognize its namesake donor. Here’s a prior report on the $9 million gift from Radow and his wife, Lindy, in December to the university’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The university announced in January it is launching an institute to advance the understanding and impacts of social equity and disparity that will also bear the Radow name.