AJC On Campus: Commencement plans, Biden budget increases Pell grant funding

University of Georgia graduates and their families stay in the stands during the 2020 Spring Undergraduate Commencement ceremony at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Friday, October 16, 2020. The university practiced soial distancing guidelines for the ceremony and plans to do so again for this spring's ceremony in May. Several other colleges and universities in Georgia are planning in-person ceremonies next month. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
University of Georgia graduates and their families stay in the stands during the 2020 Spring Undergraduate Commencement ceremony at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Friday, October 16, 2020. The university practiced soial distancing guidelines for the ceremony and plans to do so again for this spring's ceremony in May. Several other colleges and universities in Georgia are planning in-person ceremonies next month. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

One of the many changes that resulted last year from the coronavirus pandemic was colleges halted in-person commencement ceremonies for graduating students. This year, many Georgia colleges and universities are planning to have in-person ceremonies, with some social distancing regulations.

Here’s more about the plans, and news on two fronts about President Joe Biden’s efforts to put his stamp on higher education policies in this edition of AJC On Campus.

Commencement COVID plans

More Georgia colleges and universities announced last week plans to hold in-person commencement ceremonies in May, with some some social distancing guidelines.

A student expresses her joy after receiving her degree at the 132nd Spelman College commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 19, 2019, at the Georgia International Convention Center. This year's commencement exercises will be held at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Georgia Tech's campus. (Photo: ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/SPECIAL TO THE AJC)
A student expresses her joy after receiving her degree at the 132nd Spelman College commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 19, 2019, at the Georgia International Convention Center. This year's commencement exercises will be held at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Georgia Tech's campus. (Photo: ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/SPECIAL TO THE AJC)

Morehouse College, for example, said in its announcement Wednesday there will be mask requirements and social distancing in four-person family pods. Georgia Southern University will limit guests to 25% of the facility’s capacity. Spelman College is having socially-distant commencement ceremonies for the class of 2020 and 2021 outdoors on Georgia Tech’s campus at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The college typically holds its commencement indoors at the Georgia International Convention Center.

Those schools and others will offer a livestream option for people who cannot or do not want to attend commencement ceremonies in person.

Biden’s budget

President Joe Biden unveiled his first budget proposal Friday, and it includes some major spending increases for higher education.

Biden wants to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $400 (it’s currently $6,495) and make them available to “DREAMers,” students who are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

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.

The proposed budget could also provide some big help to historically Black colleges and universities (there are nine accredited HBCUs in Georgia). Biden wants to double spending to $100 million for programs that aim to increase participation in science and engineering of individuals from racial and ethnic groups. He also wants to add $600 million in discretionary spending for HBCUs, minority-serving institutions and Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities to enroll, retain and graduate students.

Additionally, Biden’s proposed budget would increase spending by 10% to $144 million for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which oversees how schools investigate gender and racial discrimination complaints as well as sexual misconduct complaints.

HBCUs & the new voting law

Atlanta’s historically Black colleges and universities aren’t happy with the new voting law in Georgia, which they fear will make it more difficult for many in their communities to cast their ballots.

Morris Brown College was first last week to voice its concerns. The Atlanta University Center’s schools also issued a joint statement speaking out against the law.

Read about it here.

Chipotle’s debt-free degrees

Chipotle burrito order
Chipotle burrito order

There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about ways to lower student loan debt. On Thursday, fast-food chain Chipotle unveiled a plan that will help employees hoping to attain a college degree.

The company will offer debt-free degrees in agriculture, culinary, and hospitality to all eligible employees in partnership with a company called Guild Education. The employees can take courses at various accredited colleges and universities.

Chipotle has 16 locations in the Atlanta area. The company began an effort a few years ago to help employees with college expenses. So far, the company said it has seen a retention rate of 3.5 times higher among students who are enrolled in its Cultivate Education program.

UGA COVID cases rise

University of Georgia officials said they were concerned about an increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases there. UGA said Wednesday there was an increase in positive cases to 53 in a recent seven-day stretch from 33 cases the prior seven days.

“I think the rise can be attributed to several factors, but primarily the fact that we are collectively letting down our guard, which we cannot afford to do,” Dr. Garth Russo, executive director of UGA’s Health Center and chair of its Medical Oversight Task Force, said in a statement.

Couple charged with cover-up in hit-and-run death of UGA student

Athens-Clarke County police on Thursday charged the mother and stepfather of a woman accused in a hit-and-run crash that killed a University of Georgia student with attempting to cover up the incident.

Knox Whiten, 21, of Toccoa, died on March 21 after he was involved in a hit-and-run accident as a pedestrian in Athens.
Knox Whiten, 21, of Toccoa, died on March 21 after he was involved in a hit-and-run accident as a pedestrian in Athens.

Credit: Family Photo

Credit: Family Photo

The student, Knox Whiten, 21, of Toccoa, was hit by a car while walking near the intersection of the Athens Perimeter and Chase Street on March 21. He previously attended Florida State University and played club golf there and at UGA.

Read more details here.

The U.S. DOE’s Title IX review

New presidents often implement new policies, particularly when they have diametrically different viewpoints on some issues.

Federal education officials said last week they’ll conduct a comprehensive review of its regulations aimed at preventing discrimination based on the person’s sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the investments in the American Jobs Plan at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. (Leigh Vogel/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the investments in the American Jobs Plan at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. (Leigh Vogel/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

One area of focus will likely be policies concerning transgender students.

The Trump administration in its first year in office retreated from the Obama White House’s position that transgender students should be able to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their chosen gender identity.

President Joe Biden has directed federal agencies to reevaluate their policies on LGBTQ rights.

We’ll stay tuned.

Ex-Georgia Regent ordered to pay $10.8 million in federal case

One chapter in the ongoing legal disputes involving former Georgia Board of Regents member Dean Alford ended about a week ago when a federal judge signed paperwork ordering him to pay about $10.8 million after investors said he ran a Ponzi scheme that ripped them off.

Read more here.

From the AJC Get Schooled Blog

Here’s a guest column by a college professor in New York telling students not to get caught up in believing where they go to school sets their life course.

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