AJC On Campus: Lawmakers mull funding formula tweaks; GSU’s space grant

A roundup of news and happenings from Georgia colleges and universities
When state legislators convene in January, some want to hash out changes to the state's funding formula for public universities. (Jason Getz / AJC FILE PHOTO)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

When state legislators convene in January, some want to hash out changes to the state's funding formula for public universities. (Jason Getz / AJC FILE PHOTO)

Updating the state’s funding formula for universities is akin to turning a battleship.

So says Georgia House Higher Education committee Chairman Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, who nonetheless plans to attempt the complicated maneuver during the upcoming 2024 legislative session.

“I think everybody recognizes that it’s a tough thing to do,” Martin told committee members recently as they mulled ideas to revise how the state appropriates money to Georgia’s public colleges and universities.

Also in this edition of AJC On Campus, we bring you news about big grants to Emory, Georgia State and Middle Georgia State universities and new building projects coming to Kennesaw State and Georgia State universities.

A more flexible funding formula?

Brace for more talk about tweaking the state funding formula for public colleges and universities when the 2024 session of the Georgia General Assembly begins next month.

We told you in early September about an ad hoc Georgia House of Representatives committee that’s been meeting since late August to discuss state funding for the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia.

Since then, lawmakers have brainstormed potential changes to how the state pays to maintain and operate campus buildings. The University System, for example, receives money based on the square footage of its campus facilities, but officials have said that amount hasn’t kept pace with inflation and soaring utility bills.

There also have been discussions about how to help colleges foot the bill for higher-cost programs, such as nursing, that train students for in-demand jobs. Colleges struggle to hire nursing instructors because they generally earn more working as a nurse than teaching at a college, officials say.

Rep. Marcus Wiedower, R-Watkinsville, led the funding formula discussions this fall. At a Dec. 6 House Higher Education meeting, Wiedower said the House, Senate, school leaders, and the governor’s office need to work together to update the appropriations process into something “more malleable” and more “appropriate” to support Georgia’s most-needed career paths.

The University System’s funding formula is driven largely by enrollment and credit hour counts from two years prior. Martin said that two-year “lag” is something that could be addressed: “We actually know how many people are there now.”

Advocating for a change in HOPE rules

State Rep. Eric Bell has proposed legislation that deals with HOPE scholarship eligibility.

Credit: Eric Bell / Facebook

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Credit: Eric Bell / Facebook

Speaking of the upcoming session, lawmakers are already prefiling legislation for their colleagues to consider.

One bill caught our eye because it proposes to remove provisions that make students convicted of certain felony drug offenses ineligible for Georgia’s popular HOPE scholarship and grant programs.

House Bill 853, prefiled on Nov. 22 by Rep. Eric Bell, D-Jonesboro, calls for students to not be disqualified for HOPE “solely based on a conviction for an offense involving marijuana or a controlled substance.”

Bus depot on Irwin Street

Georgia State University's diesel buses (pictured here) will be replaced with electric ones, thanks to a federal grant. (Courtesy of Georgia State University)

Credit: Georgia State University

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Credit: Georgia State University

A $6.37 million bus depot will be built to house Georgia State University’s new fleet of electric buses.

The Georgia Board of Regents in November authorized the construction of a central bus facility on 1.5 acres of vacant land at 315 Irwin St. in Atlanta.

The depot will house up to 20 buses used to transport students around the campus and to parking areas. In June, Georgia State announced it had received a $22.3 million federal grant to purchase electric buses, which are scheduled to be delivered in summer 2025, according to University System of Georgia documents.

The depot project will include administrative space with offices and restrooms, documents state.

The board also approved a $2.5 million renovation of Kennesaw State University’s Carmichael Student Center. The renovation will create a welcome center for prospective students and visitors to the Kennesaw campus.

Georgia State space research

Georgia State University professor of physics and astronomy Stuart Jefferies (at left in foreground) received a $5 million grant to help with his research to detect objects in space. (Courtesy of Georgia State University)

Credit: Georgia State University

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Credit: Georgia State University

Georgia State University physics and astronomy professor Stuart Jefferies is the recipient of an out-of-this-world grant.

The university announced last week that Jefferies was awarded the $5 million grant from the U.S. Air Force. It will be used to figure out the best ways to detect, map and image faraway objects in space, the university said. The techniques developed could help bolster national security and assist astronomers by providing clearer images of faint objects, the school said.

Also on the research team are experts from the Georgia Tech Research Institute, the University of Hawaii and the University of Minnesota.

More federal funding for Georgia State

Speaking of Georgia State, the university also received more than $7.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education.

The funding is part of $93 million announced by the federal agency Friday to support research at historically Black, tribally controlled and minority-serving schools. Georgia State’s award comes through the Postsecondary Student Success Grant program, which strives to improve student retention, transfer and graduation rates.

Georgia State is designated as a minority-serving institution by the federal government. Black students make up 42% of the university’s 50,521 enrollment, another 20% of students are white, 18% are Asian, 14% are Hispanic and about 5% are multiracial, according to a fall 2023 state enrollment report.

Georgia State will use the new funding to integrate personalized chatbot communications into introductory math and English courses, according to the Education Department.

Climate change grant

More money is rolling in to support Emory University researchers studying how climate change impacts the health of under-resourced urban populations, focusing on Atlanta.

Emory experts from the Rollins School of Public Health received a $3.8 million federal grant to create the Climate & Health Actionable Research and Translation Center, or CHART.

The center’s research will examine heat-related illness in Atlanta, the university said. The center also will work to identify climate and health issues in the city.

“Extreme heat already kills more Americans than hurricanes, floods and tornadoes combined, and climate change is making it a lot worse, especially for urban populations who already suffer from the urban heat island effect,” said Yang Liu, the center’s director, in a written statement.

The grant will help “build climate change resilience in our communities,” Liu said.

Middle Georgia State’s biggest gift

The Delta Air Lines Foundation gave Middle Georgia State University a $3 million grant and presented a ceremonial check during an event in Eastman, Georgia. (Courtesy of Middle Georgia State University)

Credit: Middle Georgia State University

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Credit: Middle Georgia State University

Middle Georgia State University received the largest contribution in its history from the Delta Air Lines Foundation.

The $3 million grant will expand the aviation program, the university said in a news release.

“This grant opens doors to creating more opportunities for prospective students in our state to pursue rewarding careers in aviation,” said university President Christopher Blake, in a written statement.

A portion of the grant will go toward purchasing equipment, hiring faculty and creating more training sites in rural Georgia and around Atlanta. The aviation school is based in Eastman and has satellite sites in Macon and Griffin.

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