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Crawford: Sometimes the answer is right in front of you

Posted: June 4, 2017 - 1:00am

Have you ever had one of those moments when you don't see that the answer to your problem is sitting there right in front of you?

I thought about that at a recent meeting of the board of regents, a group of esteemed citizens who makes policy decisions about how the university system should be operated.

The regents were given a spiffy presentation by Mathew Hauer, a demographer at the University of Georgia, about a new idea that's intended to boost enrollment in the university system.

This is a major problem for the regents because university system enrollment has been essentially flat for the past six years - down a little bit for a couple of years, then up a little bit for a couple of years.

Enrollment has not been growing fast enough to provide the state with the college graduates it will need for its future workforce (it's estimated that by 2020, 65 percent of our jobs will require some sort of postsecondary degree or training beyond a high school education).

The most alarming indicator is that the percentage of Georgia high school graduates who enroll in a university system institution has slumped from 46 percent to 41 percent.

Hauer has developed an innovative computer app that can identify high school graduates who haven't enrolled in a public college, but might be persuaded to do so "and thus grow the market share of the system."

He gave a detailed explanation of the data sets built into his app that will be used to "understand the pipeline of high school students and the ratio of actual enrollments to estimated prospects."

There are an estimated 10,000 young immigrants in Georgia who are allowed to reside here legally under an executive order issued by Barack Obama in 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

These are the people known as "Dreamers." They were brought to America as children by their parents and, in most cases, have lived here ever since. They generally consider themselves Americans, even if they never went through the formal process of becoming naturalized citizens.

Many of these Dreamers have graduated high school and would like to attend one of the university system institutions, but there is a regents policy that requires them to pay the out-of-state tuition rate. Because that rate is roughly three times higher than in-state tuition, most of these students are effectively priced out of attending a public college.

The regents are well aware of the controversy surrounding this policy because immigrant students have been showing up at board meetings for the past six years to protest it.

If the regents are really interested in boosting enrollment, they have a group of highly motivated high school graduates who would love to attend one of their colleges. But this would require them to rescind their policy requiring the payment of out-of-state tuition rates.

It's worth noting that even conservative states like Texas give this kind of tuition break to undocumented students.

A related action that the regents could take to mitigate the problem of flat enrollment would be to reduce in-state tuition for students, which would also help make a college education more affordable.

For years, Georgia and other states like New Mexico have been among the leaders when it came to increases in college tuitions and fees.

The regents did go an entire academic year (2016-17) without raising tuition and they held down the tuition increase to just 2 percent for the upcoming academic year. Those are commendable actions.

Just as an experiment, the regents might try cutting tuition by 5 percent or some like amount for one year and see if that brings an increase in student enrollment.

That may be another solution that's right there in front of them.

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at tcrawford@gareport.com.

 

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