AJC On Campus: State lawmakers talk funding formula; freshman class stats

Morehouse College freshman Liam Wang, from Connecticut, unpacks his suitcase as his mom Jamilia Grier takes photos of him on her phone as he moves into his Hubert Hall dorm room on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Michael Blackshire/Michael.blackshire@ajc.com)

Credit: Michael Blackshire

Credit: Michael Blackshire

Morehouse College freshman Liam Wang, from Connecticut, unpacks his suitcase as his mom Jamilia Grier takes photos of him on her phone as he moves into his Hubert Hall dorm room on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (Michael Blackshire/Michael.blackshire@ajc.com)

Campuses are once again bustling with students, and lawmakers are diving into how the state funds public colleges.

A private Atlanta law school just agreed to a settlement over improper use of federal student aid, and Georgia State University is rolling out a new safety measure.

We’ve got all that and more in this jampacked edition of AJC On Campus.

Let’s talk about the funding formula

Chancellor Sonny Perdue spoke to state lawmakers in January about inflation and other budget pressures that impact the University System of Georgia. (Hyosub Shin / AJC file photo)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

First, the basics: Georgia’s public colleges and universities receive state money based on a funding formula that uses enrollment numbers as a key weight.

The formula for the University System of Georgia has been in place since the 1980s. In January, Chancellor Sonny Perdue asked lawmakers to consider tweaking the formula to keep up with inflation, salary increases and other budget pressures.

It ended up being a messy legislative session. Lawmakers gave the Medical College of Georgia $105 million to pay for a new electronic medical records system, in preparation for Wellstar Health System’s takeover of Augusta University’s hospitals. But then, amid a political tussle, lawmakers turned around and cut $66 million from the University System’s budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Now, lawmakers are once again talking about funding formula issues. An ad hoc Georgia House of Representatives committee met Aug. 30 to start the discussion about how the state provides money to the University System and the Technical College System of Georgia.

Committee Chairman Rep. Marcus Wiedower, R-Watkinsville, told fellow lawmakers the group’s goal is to gain a “deeper understanding” of how the funding formulas work and what lawmakers “might be able to do to help” with any challenges.

During the first meeting, the University System’s Chief Fiscal Officer Tracey Cook gave an overview of the $3.1 billion in state funding the system will receive this year.

She said the benefits of the formula are that it’s predictable and it simplifies the budget process.

But it also has disadvantages, she said. The formula hasn’t kept up with inflation, including the cost to maintain buildings and other modern-day campus realities. Colleges have different needs now than they did decades ago: more technology, more security measures to prevent physical and cyber attacks, and more tutoring and counseling to help students who aren’t fully prepared for college classes.

Cook said the current formula also doesn’t provide performance-based incentives for improving graduation and retention rates.

Stay tuned to learn if any proposed changes come from the discussion, which is ongoing. The committee will meet again Sept. 15 in Athens and Oct. 26 in Statesboro.

Welcome, freshmen

Lilly Sharp laughs as Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera helps her move in Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023.   (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

We’re learning a bit more about the thousands of new Georgia college students who recently moved into campuses across the state.

The University of Georgia said 6,200 students are part of the Class of 2027. The students have an average weighted high school grade-point average of 4.13, an average ACT score of 30, and an average SAT score of 1339.

About 1 in 7 students are the first in their families to go to college.

About 3,800 first-year students are starting their studies at Georgia Tech, a 23% increase from five years ago. Fifteen percent are first-generation students.

Don’t forget your ID

Georgia State University students should remember their student ID cards in the evening. (Benjamin Hendren/AJC file photo)

Credit: Benjamin Hendren

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Credit: Benjamin Hendren

Georgia State University students now need their school-issued identification badge, also known as the PantherCard, to enter buildings on the Atlanta campus after 8 p.m.

Most of the campus buildings had closed to the public at 11 p.m. or earlier. Now, only those with a card, including students and faculty, will be able to enter those places after 8 p.m. Cards also will be required to get into buildings before 7:30 a.m.

The impacted sites include the education and law colleges, libraries, the GSU Sports Arena and other halls and classroom buildings.

Georgia State said it is piloting the new rules after hearing feedback last spring from the university community about desired safety measures, including limiting after-hours access to buildings.

Black college tour

Members of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus are headed back to school.

The group of elected officials will tour many of Georgia’s historically Black colleges and universities from Sept. 25 through Oct. 6. During the visits, caucus members will check out campus facilities and academic programs as well as attend town halls where students will get a chance to give their input and tell legislators what they need.

“Hearing from these students and listening to their concerns about the issues they are facing will allow us to formulate new relationships that will help us move Georgia forward,” said caucus chairman and state Rep. Carl Gilliard, D-Garden City, in a written statement.

Scheduled stops include Albany State University, Fort Valley State University, Savannah State University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, Paine College and Morris Brown College.

U.S. Department of Education settlement

Atlanta’s John Marshall School of Law is one of five schools to recently settle claims with the U.S. Department of Education following an investigation into improper disbursement of federal student aid.

The education agency announced Aug. 24 that the schools gave the funds to students enrolled in unaccredited master of laws programs. The private Atlanta law school improperly disbursed more than $20,000 in federal student aid funds between July 2017 and June 2022, according to the department.

In a statement, the law school said it “inadvertently disbursed” funds to one student during the 2017-2018 year.

The student was deemed ineligible for funding because the law school, at that time, was solely accredited by the American Bar Association, which doesn’t accredit that master’s program, according to the school.

The school said it cooperated with the investigation, which it said resulted in an “amicable settlement” in which the school repaid $1,379.

“AJMLS wishes to emphasize that this was an incident involving only one student, and no students or former students of AJMLS will bear any financial burden because of this settlement,” said dean and CEO Jace C. Gatewood in a statement to the AJC. “Moving forward, AJMLS has implemented rigorous policies and procedures to ensure full compliance with all Title IV requirements. We remain committed to the highest standards of educational excellence and integrity.”

The other schools to settle claims with the federal agency are Albany Law School, Brooklyn Law School, New England Law–Boston and New York Law School. Combined, the five schools made nearly $2.9 million in ineligible disbursements over a five-year period, according to the department.

Presidential housing change

The University of Georgia's President's House on Prince Avenue as photographed Thursday, Oct. 30, 2003. (Bita Honarvar / AJC file photo)

Credit: AJC staff

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Credit: AJC staff

The University System of Georgia will no longer require any of its college presidents to reside in university housing.

The Georgia Board of Regents recently approved a policy change, effective Sept. 1, that states no school leaders will be required to live in university housing “nor shall there be presidential housing at any USG institution.”

The previous policy required presidents of research universities to live, at no charge, in university housing, though exceptions had been granted.

The change comes after the University of Georgia announced that its presidential home in Athens would be sold, citing the growing cost of upkeep. The University System acquired the mansion in 1949, and proceeds from its sale will be used to support student success programs at UGA.

President Jere Morehead will move into another home that he purchased several years ago, UGA said previously.

None of the other schools in the system own homes where presidents currently reside. Georgia Tech’s presidential home is used for events, and the presidential homes for Georgia State and Augusta universities were previously sold.

No word yet on how much the white columned, historic home in Athens might sell for, but county property records value it at over $5 million.

Art exhibition

The vibrantly restored entrance to Pasaquan, with painted totems that appear throughout the site. Pasaquan is an art installation created by the late visionary artist Eddie Owens Martin in Buena Vista. (Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)

Credit: Bob Andres

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Credit: Bob Andres

One of Georgia’s most renowned self-taught artists transformed his home of Pasaquan into a must-see destination in Marion County, a spot owned and preserved by Columbus State University.

An upcoming art exhibition by the Bo Bartlett Center in Columbus and Pasaquan will feature artists whose work resonates with that of the late Eddie Owens Martin, also known as St. EOM.

Opening events will take place at 6 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Bo Bartlett Center and at 5 p.m. Sept. 16 at Pasaquan in Buena Vista.

The exhibition will run through Dec. 16.

A $1 million goal

First-year Spelman students line up before a joint convocation with Morehouse at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel in Atlanta on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023.   (Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

Members of Spelman College’s Class of 1974 want to raise $1 million for their alma mater in honor of the 50th anniversary of their graduation.

The group’s “Women for Golden Futures” fundraising campaign will support scholarship and student support efforts.

“This is a unique effort that welcomes supporters to contribute to helping fulfill the dreams and aspirations of our nation’s coming generations of Black women leaders,” said campaign spokeswoman Mildred Whittier, in a written statement.

University System’s economic impact

$20.1 billion.

That’s how much a recent study showed the University System of Georgia contributed to the state’s economy from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022. That represents a 4.14% increase from the previous year.

The study was done by Jeffrey M. Humphreys, director of the Selig Center for Economic Growth in the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.

Mental health grant

A Georgia State University researcher was awarded a five-year, $3.6 million federal grant to expand school-based mental health services.

The funding will be used to support graduate students “from diverse and underrepresented groups,” according to a news release. Students will receive tuition help, as well as a stipend and money for parking, books, travel to conferences and funds to cover other costs.

“What we know is that there is a documented shortage of school psychologists in Georgia and nationwide,” said Catherine Perkins, a clinical professor at Georgia State, in a written statement. “We also know that the demographics of our profession do not represent the diversity of our K-12 students.”

New scholarships

A new scholarship program will provide funding to Georgia Gwinnett College students whose parents do not have a four-year degree.

A $250,000 pledge from Peach State Federal Credit Union to the Georgia Gwinnett College Foundation will launch the program. Once fully funded, the program will provide $2,500 scholarships to incoming first-generation freshmen. The scholarship can be renewed each year for up to $10,000 in help.

More than a third of Georgia Gwinnett students are the first in their families to go to college.

President Jann L. Joseph called the program “significant.”

“In many cases, scholarships are the difference between students who drop out of school and those who move on to graduate,” said Joseph, in a written statement.

A medical honor

Valerie Montgomery Rice, M.D.

Credit: contributed

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Credit: contributed

Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and CEO of Morehouse School of Medicine, received a major honor from the National Medical Association.

The organization gave her its 2023 Scroll of Merit Award, its highest honor. It recognizes someone who has made significant contributions to medicine, health advocacy or service to the association.

Montgomery Rice is the first woman to lead the private historically Black medical school in Atlanta.

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