AJC On Campus: Georgia’s transfer student troubles, changes at Albany State

A roundup of news and happenings from Georgia colleges and universities
Georgia lawmakers are reviewing numerous proposals that would impact colleges, including a bill that would require more reporting related to transfer credits. (Jason Getz / AJC file photo)

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Georgia lawmakers are reviewing numerous proposals that would impact colleges, including a bill that would require more reporting related to transfer credits. (Jason Getz / AJC file photo)

Students who enroll first at a two-year college and then transfer to a bigger university have long counted on that route as a more affordable, accessible path to a bachelor’s degree.

But new research uncovered some big leaks in Georgia’s transfer student pipeline. Only 10% of Georgia students who start out at a two-year school end up transferring to a four-year school and earning a bachelor’s degree within six years. The national average is 16%.

In this jampacked edition of AJC On Campus, we bring you more on that study and the latest legislative proposals that could impact Georgia colleges and families saving for college tuition. Plus, we’ve got news of a big change for Albany State University’s leadership, and programs coming to Georgia State and Kennesaw State universities.

Transfer troubles

Sen. Shelly Echols is sponsoring legislation aimed at making it easier to transfer credits and complete a four-year college degree. (Natrice Miller/AJC file photo)

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A report released this month suggests Georgia needs to do more to help transfer students.

Only 1 in 10 Georgia students who start at two-year colleges transfer to four-year schools and earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, according to new data from a group of organizations, including the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program.

That stat is disheartening since researchers say almost 80% of community college students report that they want to get a four-year degree.

Georgia comes in at No. 29 nationally for bachelor’s degree completion for low-income, transfer students, the study found. About 9% of low-income, two-year Georgia college students transfer and complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of starting their studies. Only 7% of Black students in Georgia start at a two-year college, transfer and complete a bachelor’s degree in six years. For Georgia students aged 25 and older, it’s only 3%.

“These findings show that Georgia is lagging far behind the rest of the nation and needs to take aggressive action to help students who start at community colleges reach their goals of attaining bachelor’s degrees,” said Tatiana Velasco, the lead author and research associate at the Community College Research Center, in a written statement.

The authors offered ways to improve. Among them: expand dual enrollment programs, advise students to complete an associate degree before they transfer to a four-year college and discourage students from transferring to for-profit or online schools where graduation rates are the lowest for transfer students.

Last week, the Georgia Senate Committee on Higher Education recommended passage of Senate Bill 399, which would require additional reporting and encourage more coordination between the University System of Georgia and the Technical System of Georgia. That includes creating a list of approved courses that can be transferred between the two systems.

That bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Shelly Echols, R-Alto, told the committee the proposal is just one step to help students complete a technical degree program in two years and be on track to finish a bachelor’s degree in another two years.

“I think what’s happening now is students are going into technical fields, they’ve spent their two years there and then they want to pursue a bachelor’s degree and they have to start over. And so this is wasted resources, this is wasted time,” she said.

From Albany State to Georgia State

Albany State University President Marion Ross Fedrick will leave her post for a job at Georgia State University. (Courtesy of University System of Georgia)

Credit: University System of Georgia

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Credit: University System of Georgia

Albany State University President Marion Ross Fedrick will leave her post for a new job at Georgia State University.

Fedrick, who has led the roughly 6,600-student university since 2018, will work as the executive vice president and chief of staff to M. Brian Blake, president of Georgia State. Georgia State is more than seven times larger than Albany State and is the largest school within the University System of Georgia, with about 50,000 students.

The University System’s chancellor, Sonny Perdue, also named Fedrick his senior adviser for the state’s three public historically Black universities. Those are Albany State, Fort Valley State and Savannah State universities.

Fedrick will begin the new jobs July 1.

In a message to the Albany State campus, she called the news “bittersweet” and said the Georgia State job “allows me to transition to one of the largest and most accomplished research institutions in the nation.”

Perdue praised her work to support students and employees at Albany State.

“I’m grateful she’s staying within the system to continue her stewardship in public higher education. She will be an invaluable resource working on behalf of our HBCUs and at a USG institution that ranks as one of the nation’s best for undergraduate teaching and innovation,” he said, in a written statement.

The University System has not yet released details about a search for Albany State’s next president.

University of Georgia faces federal fine

The U.S. Department of Agriculture brought a $12,150 civil penalty against the University of Georgia for its alleged violation of the Animal Welfare Act.

The Agriculture Department, in a citation and penalty notification dated Jan. 17, listed 10 alleged violations related to the handling, housing and use of animals in research and veterinary care going back to 2020.

In a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, UGA said it “self-identified and reported” the issues and has “already resolved most of them and are in the process of resolving the few that remain.”

UGA added that the increase in issues “is consistent with the dramatic rise in the university’s research enterprise in recent years.”

“We do not take lightly the decision to use animals in some of our research,” the statement said. “Nearly every advancement in medicine, medical devices and surgical procedures has depended on research involving animal subjects.”

The incidents include an allegation that blood draws on hamsters were performed incorrectly, contributing to the death of two hamsters. In another, the USDA letter states that a female fitch ferret “was unable to recover from inhalation anesthesia and died.”

A male orange tabby cat’s leg was injured when he slipped off a railing and through a gap in the cat room inside the Central Animal Facility at UGA. The cat had to undergo surgery, according to the report. The report also described an incident related to the death of one gerbil and another injured gerbil, who was euthanized “without consultation of the attending veterinarian or designee.”

The document also raised concerns about the health of deer at the Whitehall Deer Research Facility, among other issues.

The Ohio-based animal rights group Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! or SAEN called the federal fine a “virtually meaningless sanction” since federal regulations allow for far greater penalties.

“USDA officials could have slapped the University of Georgia with a fine well over $100,000,” said Michael A. Budkie, the group’s executive director, in a written statement.

The organization filed a federal complaint against UGA last year.

UGA said its research over the last few decades has included work on treatments for cancer, infectious diseases, neurological disorders and chronic diseases such as hypertension and obesity.

Computer science program grows

Georgia State University students can take computer science courses and receive career help, thanks to a newly expanded partnership.

CodePath, a nonprofit that provides courses and career support to train low-income students and students of color, will run the program alongside Georgia State. Students can enroll in classes to boost their web development and cybersecurity skills, receive guidance from a professional tech network and participate in coaching and mentorship opportunities.

The organization first began working with Georgia State in 2021, and has assisted nearly 500 computer science majors there. University President M. Brian Blake said the new program “will help us prepare all students, including more women and diverse students, for rewarding careers in tech.”

College savings

Georgia state Sen. Jason Esteves, D-Atlanta, is sponsoring a bill to raise the maximum contribution to a college savings plan. (Arvin Temkar / AJC file photo)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Parents, you may need a bigger piggy bank.

Georgia lawmakers are mulling a bill that would allow families to save more money in a special account for a student’s college education.

Senate Bill 469, sponsored by state Sen. Jason Esteves, D-Atlanta, would increase the limit that can be contributed to the Georgia Higher Education Savings Plan, otherwise known as a 529 Plan. The proposal would boost the maximum that can be saved in an account from $235,000 to $450,000 per child.

Esteves told fellow senators during a recent committee meeting that the bill would not change allowable tax deductions. Georgia’s married filing jointly taxpayers receive a state income tax deduction up to $8,000 per year per beneficiary for contributions to the savings plan, while single tax filers can deduct up to $4,000.

According to the Office of the State Treasurer, other features of the savings plan include that money saved grows tax-deferred and “withdrawals for qualified higher education expenses are tax-free.”

Esteves said the state’s current $235,000 savings plan cap was established decades ago “and has not been raised since.”

“During that time, college costs have doubled in the last 30 years, and the IRS has allowed families to use 529 plans in other ways,” he said.

Esteves said Georgia’s limit is among the lowest in the nation. Some states allow over $500,000 in contributions, he said.

Besides college tuition, other allowable uses for the funds include paying for primary and secondary schooling or off-campus student housing, Esteves said.

The Senate Higher Education Committee voted in favor of the bill, which now continues through the legislative approval process.

Tweaks to need-based aid

Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, is the sponsor of House Bill 1124, which would lower the credits threshold to obtain a need-based college completion grant. (Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)

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A bill to expand eligibility for Georgia’s need-based college completion grants also cleared its first hurdle.

The Georgia House Higher Education Committee last week recommended approval of House Bill 1124. It would make students eligible for financial help after completing 70% of a four-year degree or 45% of a two-year degree. Currently, a student must have finished 80% of their program before they’re eligible for the grants, which provide up to $2,500 per student.

The proposal also would extend the program, scheduled to end in 2025, for another two years.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, tried last year to lower the credit threshold needed for students to be eligible for the program. But that bill, which included other language that this year’s version leaves out, was vetoed by the governor.

We’ve written extensively about the program, which college access advocates and financial aid officials have said would be improved if students could qualify for the financial aid earlier in their studies.

Martin told lawmakers that his suggested change would make the grants “more usable.”

During the completion grant program’s first year, from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023, the state paid out just over $7.2 million of a $10 million budget, according to the Georgia Student Finance Commission.

Supporting HBCU leadership

A $1.2 million grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will bolster the HBCU Executive Leadership Institute at Clark Atlanta University.

The institute provides professional development training and micro-credentials to prepare leaders to be presidents and executives at historically Black colleges and universities.

The gift will be used to expand the curriculum. It comes from the philanthropic initiative created by Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

Mastering AI

Think artificial intelligence is taking over the world?

Well, next fall, Kennesaw State University will launch a master of science in artificial intelligence degree. The Georgia Board of Regents approved the program at its February meeting.

It will train students in computer and data science, information technology and software engineering. Kennesaw State said it will set students up for careers as a research scientist, application or algorithm developer and as a product manager, among other jobs.

Kennesaw State’s new STEM building

Participants in a Kennesaw State University groundbreaking ceremony for a new STEM facility include (from left) KSU student Nick Farinucci, University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue, KSU President Kathy Schwaig and Georgia Board of Regents members Cade Joiner and Jose Perez. (Courtesy of Matthew Yung / Kennesaw State University)

Credit: Matthew Yung / Kennesaw State University

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Credit: Matthew Yung / Kennesaw State University

Construction on a new science, technology, engineering and math building is underway at Kennesaw State University’s Marietta campus.

University officials held a groundbreaking ceremony earlier this month for the Interdisciplinary STEM Building.

The roughly 70,000-square-foot facility will include wet and dry labs and spaces for chemistry, biology and cybersecurity work, among other features.

The project is estimated to cost $60 million, according to Georgia Board of Regents documents from 2022. The building is expected to open by fall 2025.

Rain check

University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue speaks to the board members during a 2022 meeting of the Georgia Board of Regents held at the system's downtown Atlanta headquarters. (Miguel Martinez / AJC file photo)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

An “indoor rain” prompted the Georgia Board of Regents to abandon its usual meeting spot at the University System of Georgia’s downtown Atlanta headquarters.

That’s according to Chancellor Sonny Perdue, who said a 2-inch fire suppression pipe burst on the top floor of the building at 270 Washington St. He told the board last week that work was underway to remove carpet, furniture and Sheetrock.

He playfully noted that the problems centered “in my corner of the building.”

The University System office remains open, but Perdue said holding the meeting there would have required board members to step over air blowers and talk over the sound of the repair work.

The board moved its Feb. 13 meeting to Georgia Tech.

It has scheduled a strategic planning retreat for March 12-13 at Callaway Resort and Gardens in Pine Mountain and plans to hold its April 16 meeting at Gordon State College in Barnesville. It’s customary for the board to travel to one of the University System schools for the April meeting.

Perdue said he expects to meet at the University System office for the Board of Regents’ May meeting.

If you have any higher education tips or thoughts, email reporter Vanessa McCray at vanessa.mccray@ajc.com.