Report: Georgia not doing enough to help students earn degrees

Students study in the Atrium Building on the Kennesaw State University Marietta Campus. AJC/PHIL SKINNER

Students study in the Atrium Building on the Kennesaw State University Marietta Campus. AJC/PHIL SKINNER

A team of researchers released a report Thursday that concluded Georgia’s political and education leaders — at public and private schools — must do more to help students enroll and graduate from college, saying the state is near the bottom nationally in both categories.

Thirty-one percent of Georgians between ages 18 and 24 are in college, the 45th lowest rate in the nation, according to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for the Research on Higher Education.

The report also took Georgia to task for the small percentage of low-income students graduating from college. Only four schools where the majority of students are eligible for federal grants to aid low-income students had six-year graduation rates greater than 50 percent, the researchers found.

“Although the state saw very modest gains in higher educational attainment between 2011 and 2017, it is far from achieving the kinds of outcomes that can sustain a modern, competitive economy,” the report said. “This study shows that Georgia is not on track to educate enough people with high-quality workforce credentials or college degrees.”

Joni Finney, the institute’s director, said in a telephone interview Thursday that state leaders need to work more collaboratively on a campaign to boost college completion or needs a bipartisan entity to develop a statewide policy agenda for educational attainment.

University System of Georgia officials questioned the accuracy of some data in the report.

System officials are engaged in an ongoing effort to better assist students at the start of their academic careers. The system did not raise tuition this academic year, recognizing costs have increased in recent years. They also said they’ve saved $19 million a year in textbooks by using free, online resources as part of the Affordable Learning Georgia initiative.

“Georgia is seen as a national leader on college completion and has made significant progress in recent years,” a statement from the University System said. “We were among the first to implement initiatives such as remediation reform, 15-to-finish and guided pathways. In addition to our work with the Gates Foundation, we are one of four systems in the country who have received a Strong Start to Finish grant to take our proven student success initiatives to scale. The number of USG graduates has increased 21 percent since 2011, far outpacing our 2 percent increase in enrollment.”

The report said Georgia must do more to help low-income students, echoing additional research that indicates the state's poorest students are paying more for college than in recent years.

There were some bright spots in the report, such as the number of students transferring from associate to bachelor degree programs is the third-highest in the nation; and three institutions, Emory University, Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia,  are ranked among the nation’s best research colleges and universities.