AJC On Campus: Georgia student loan numbers, DACA tuition bill

The White House recently released numbers showing more than 1 million Georgia residents applied or were automatically eligible for a proposal to relieve student debt. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

The White House recently released numbers showing more than 1 million Georgia residents applied or were automatically eligible for a proposal to relieve student debt. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

More than 1 million Georgians applied for or were automatically eligible for student loan relief before courts blocked the Biden administration’s debt forgiveness proposal.

In this edition of AJC On Campus, we bring you more details about those numbers from Georgia, the latest education legislation from the Gold Dome and introduce you to Atlanta Metropolitan State College’s new president.

Debt data

Borrowers are still waiting to find out if the courts will allow President Joe Biden’s sweeping student debt relief plan to proceed. And new numbers show how many people the decision would impact.

In August, the president proposed erasing up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers with an annual income under $125,000. Pell Grant recipients could see up to $20,000 in forgiveness.

But that plan, estimated to cost roughly $400 billion, is on pause amid legal challenges.

In the nearly four weeks before applications were shut down, the White House reports that 26 million people either applied for or had already provided enough information to be deemed eligible for relief. Of those, 16 million borrowers were approved.

In Georgia, 1,012,000 people applied or were automatically eligible for assistance. Of those, 642,000 applications were fully approved and sent to loan servicers for discharge before the court halted the program, according to the White House.

The high-population states of California and Texas had the most applicants in the nation.

DACA legislation

Georgia Rep. Kasey Carpenter is trying again to win passage for legislation aimed at reducing the cost of college tuition for certain immigrant students living in Georgia. (Alyssa Pointer / AJC file photo)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, is returning to an issue he’s championed before: giving more college opportunities to young immigrants who are verified recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

House Bill 131 would allow those students to pay what the bill calls “opportunity tuition,” subject to various conditions, that would make it more affordable to attend Georgia’s public colleges.

Their tuition rate would be set at slightly above the cost of in-state tuition, between 1% and 10% more. The exact amount could vary by school, Carpenter said. Currently those students pay out-of-state tuition, which is roughly three times more than in-state rates.

It would apply to DACA recipients who graduated from a Georgia high school or earned a high school equivalency diploma and who have lived in Georgia since 2013, or who are the dependent child of someone who’s been here for 10 years.

Carpenter, who has been trying to pass similar legislation for a couple of years, has framed the issue as a way to spur workforce development. He said it’s in everyone’s best interest to help these students, who are “here to stay and add value to our communities and economy.”

DACA students cannot enroll in the University System of Georgia’s most selective schools, such as Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia.

The House Higher Education Committee’s chair, Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, expects future debate over the bill. But he also sought to clarify what it would and would not do.

“This does not put people that are in the country illegally in front of others,” he said during a Wednesday committee meeting.

Lawmakers probe ‘transcript ransom’

Georgia colleges can withhold a student’s transcript when they owe the school money, but recently introduced legislation would prevent that practice when students need their official academic record to get a job.

More details are emerging about House Bill 39, the proposal that seeks to end so-called “transcript ransom,” albeit in limited, employment-only circumstances.

The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Marvin Lim, D-Norcross, told the House’s Higher Education Committee on Wednesday that an estimated 180,000 students or former students in Georgia can’t access their transcripts because they owe money. That number reflects those who need the records for a multitude of reasons beyond just work, such as transferring to another school.

Lim contends his proposed change would help employ more workers and that once they have jobs, they’ll be better positioned to pay off their balances.

The bill, which counts Republicans and Democrats among its co-sponsors, has received varied responses from lawmakers.

Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville, called it an excellent and straightforward idea.

Rep. Clay Pirkle, R-Ashburn, likened a college withholding a transcript until a student pays off debt to a parent who forbids a child from eating dessert until they eat their vegetables.

“Is this a negative consequence that we are taking away from our member institutions?” Pirkle asked.

Lawmakers want to know more about the amount and kind of debt that students owe to schools. That debt, known as institutional debt, is different than the federal loans students often take out. It can include tuition owed directly to a school or other fees and fines.

A recent report from Virginia, prepared as legislators there considered transcript withholding policies, gives perhaps the most complete picture of the amounts of debts students owe to their schools.

That study found nearly 15,000 students who attended Virginia’s two-year public schools since 2017 owe an average of $687 to the schools. At four-year public schools, more than 82,000 students over six years had an average institutional debt amount of $4,062.

Group questions Georgia State over animal research

An animal rights watchdog group is calling for Georgia State University to fire a professor over his research practices that involve mice.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now, or SAEN, wants the university to cut all ties with Zhi-Ren Liu, a biology professor. The organization alleges that he was banned multiple times by the university’s research administration from using animals in research because of how animals were treated, such as performing unapproved procedures.

In a Wednesday letter to GSU’s president, the organization states that it obtained documents that indicate the professor “has been banned from involvement in animal experimentation” but that SAEN believes he “may still be connected to animal experiment” through a university startup that focuses on pharmaceutical cancer research.

Georgia State issued a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in response to the group’s concerns.

It read: “Georgia State takes the humane treatment of animals extremely seriously. The university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee terminated the researcher’s existing protocols and the university suspended his privileges to conduct animal research on April 20, 2022.”

New leader for South Georgia State

Gregory M. Tanner has been named interim president of South Georgia State College. (Courtesy of University System of Georgia)

Credit: University System of Georgia

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Credit: University System of Georgia

An interim president has been named to lead South Georgia State College.

Gregory M. Tanner stepped into the role this month after the college’s previous leader, Ingrid Thompson-Sellers, was named president of Atlanta Metropolitan State College. Both schools are within the University System of Georgia, and Tanner’s appointment was made by Chancellor Sonny Perdue.

Tanner most recently worked as South Georgia State’s vice president for advancement, government relations and athletics.

The college has campuses in Douglas and Waycross, and enrolled 1,794 students last fall, according to state data.

Three questions with...

Ingrid Thompson-Sellers is the new president of Atlanta Metropolitan State College. (Courtesy of University System of Georgia)

Credit: University System of Georgia

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Credit: University System of Georgia

Ingrid Thompson-Sellers comes to Atlanta Metro with more than 30 years of experience working in colleges.

To get to know her, we asked her three questions as she takes over the presidency of a college that’s home to 1,440 students.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in your new job at Atlanta Metropolitan State University?

A: This new assignment will give me an incredible opportunity to meet and work with the dedicated AMSC faculty and staff, support the students in their pursuit of a college education, and strengthen the relationships between the institution and AMSC’s alumni, community partners, and friends. I am truly excited about becoming a member of the Trailblazer family!

Q: What’s your favorite place to eat when you’re in Atlanta?

A: I cannot say that I have one favorite place to eat while visiting Atlanta since there are so many options with incredible culinary experiences. One example of a very good dining experience that I had recently was at the Tabla Indian Restaurant in Midtown. The ambience was very nice, and the food was excellent.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you’d give a high school senior trying to decide what to do once they graduate or where to go to college?

A: This will likely sound very cliché; however, doing homework/research to identify options would be a first step. There are multiple resources available to do the necessary research, including high school counselors, family and friends. Though some of these options may not turn out to be viable choices, having information to make informed decisions is always good.

We’d like to feature people from Georgia’s colleges and universities in upcoming editions of AJC On Campus. If you have a story idea or other suggestions, email higher education reporter Vanessa McCray at vanessa.mccray@ajc.com.