AJC On Campus: Legislative priorities, chancellor’s nine-month mark

A biweekly roundup of news and happenings from Georgia colleges and universities
Georgia fans cheer at the start of the fourth quarter of the College Football Playoff Semifinal between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 31, 2022. Georgia plays in the national championship game on Monday. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Georgia fans cheer at the start of the fourth quarter of the College Football Playoff Semifinal between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 31, 2022. Georgia plays in the national championship game on Monday. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Spring semester classes at the University of Georgia begin today, but many eyes are turned elsewhere.

Tonight at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, the Bulldogs will play in the college football playoff championship game against Texas Christian University.

And in Atlanta, the 40-day legislative session will kick off, with some lawmakers focused on how Georgia colleges can create a more robust and skilled workforce.

In this edition of AJC On Campus, we bring you the latest on legislative priorities, a push to provide no-cost menstrual products in college bathrooms and support for nursing programs. We’ll also tell you what’s on Chancellor Sonny Perdue’s mind as he rounds out his first year as leader of the University System of Georgia.

Legislative focus

Expect to hear more about the need for workers, including those with special skills such as automotive technicians, during the legislative session.

The Georgia House of Representatives’ Higher Education Workforce Development Subcommittee already has been noodling ways to train more residents for in-demand, higher-wage jobs.

The subcommittee, which met last month in anticipation of the session, has heard from school counselors, college leaders and industry representatives about the struggle to keep up with growing job markets and the challenges students face when deciding on careers.

Those testifying threw out ideas such as expanding access to career counselors in K-12 schools, reexamining tuition rates for undocumented students who grew up in and live in Georgia and want to attend a public college and other ways to bridge the so-called skills gap.

Marietta City Schools Superintendent Grant Rivera told the subcommittee about the impacts of a 2020 law that capped the number of state-funded college credit hours that a high school student can take. The changes to Georgia’s dual enrollment program led to students prioritizing academic credit in core courses such as English, math, science and social studies, he said.

“We saw a significant drop in the number of kids taking career-tech related dual enrollment courses once we put the 30-hour cap in,” Rivera told lawmakers.

It remains to be seen what legislative responses could emerge.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education highlighted several recommendations in its just-released 2023 Top Ten Issues to Watch report. It urges the Georgia General Assembly to create a comprehensive, need-based financial aid program to help more young and working adults pursue postsecondary education.

Georgia is one of just two states without a widespread needs-based scholarship program, according to experts. (The popular, merit-based HOPE scholarship, funded through the Georgia Lottery, has grade-point average requirements.)

GPEE wants state leaders to give more incentives to working adults who enroll in short-term programs in fields where Georgia faces employee shortages.

The state should also think about expanding tax incentives to companies that financially support employees who are pursuing a credential or educational program, they said.

Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee, told the workforce committee last month that they’ll look for short-, medium- and long-term solutions directed at K-12 schools, the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia.

“There are things that we can do,” he said.

Checking in with the chancellor

University System of Georgia Chancellor and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue enters the Georgia House of Representatives chamber at the Georgia State Capitol for his investiture ceremony in 2022. (Hyosub Shin / AJC file photo)


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Sonny Perdue is now nine months into his job as chancellor of the 26-school University System of Georgia.

He joined other state education leaders at a Friday media symposium convened by GPEE ahead of the legislative session.

Perdue opened his remarks by asserting that the University System is becoming “a much more nimble, adaptive organization.” It’s responding to declining enrollment and anticipated demographic shifts, such as fewer Georgia high school graduates due to lower birthrates.

That means colleges will need to be more efficient and market themselves to nontraditional students, including the roughly 1.4 million Georgians who have some college credit but haven’t earned a degree, Perdue said.

“We think their future depends on how successful they can be in that completion,” he said.

With enrollments falling the last two academic years, he’s also focused on how to “right-size the system.” Instead of paying to construct new campus buildings, existing facilities can be renovated and modernized, he said. He’s also focused on offering what he called “pertinent, relevant education courses” and weeding out others.

”We are all the time sifting out those courses that are not being utilized very much and (with) a tenured faculty you have to be very careful in how you do that,” he said.

Perdue said that means taking a close look at courses that enroll only a few students, though he acknowledged class size is just one measurement that can be used in determining if a course should continue to be offered.

”I’m talking about … more esoteric-type courses where there seems to be little demand for them going forward,” he said, adding that the system is looking for “courses that will prepare students for the future going forward.”

No-cost hygiene products

Could Georgia campuses be the next place to tackle “period poverty”?

Advocates across the United States have pushed for more access to menstrual products, especially for those who can’t afford to pay for tampons and pads.

One idea? Give hygiene products to students at no cost. House Bill 5, prefiled in December, would require such items be available in the bathrooms of University System of Georgia buildings that are used for student instruction or administrative work.

The bill so far has just one sponsor, state Rep. Sandra Scott, a Democrat from Clayton County.

Nursing program grants

Four Georgia schools will receive $25,000 grants to support their nursing programs.

Health care provider Kaiser Permanente announced it will give a total of $100,000 to Kennesaw State University, Clayton State University, Georgia Gwinnett College and Georgia State University.

Kennesaw State will use the money to provide nursing student scholarships and pay for faculty training. Clayton State and Georgia State also plan to provide scholarships. Georgia Gwinnett will use the money to give financial help to students and supporting mentoring programs, among other uses.

Environmental law at Emory

Mary Anne Bobinski was the first woman to be dean of Emory University's law school.

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Emory University’s law school has a new program aimed at diversifying who practices environmental law.

The Environmental Diversity Equity and Inclusion Initiative will award annual scholarships of up to $10,000 as well as summer stipends to Emory law students.

The first scholarships and stipends will be awarded in the coming months.

Mary Anne Bobinski, law school dean, said there’s “a striking lack of diversity” among attorneys who specialize in environmental law.

“Public interest organizations, governments, law firms, and corporations must diversify their environmental legal workforce. Law schools must play a role too, building a strong cohort of well-trained and diverse environmental lawyers,” she said, in a written statement.

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