Mike Klein Online

Big Push Starts to Improve Georgia Higher Ed Graduation Rates

Mike Klein

Governor Nathan Deal has announced Georgia is one of ten states that will receive $1 million grants from Complete College America to support improvements in higher education graduation rates.  These grants are funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  One result you can expect from this initiative is closer coordination as it benefits students between the state’s university and technical college systems.

Two years ago Georgetown University’s highly regarded Center on Education and the Workforce predicted 62 percent of all jobs nationwide will require some college education within the next seven years.  Georgia is far from ready according to the Complete College America state data website that reports 34 percent of Georgians 25-to-34 years old have college degrees.

Complete College America found that for every 100 Georgia students who begin ninth grade, just 38 enter college the fall after completing high school.  Just six graduate with a bachelor’s degree within four years.  Just three graduate with an associate’s degree within three years.

The Southern Regional Education Board recently challenged its 16 member states including Georgia to improve higher education graduation rates.  SREB said, “Fewer than half of ninth graders in SREB states and the nation have a reasonable chance of college enrollment — an alarming statistic.”  SREB focuses on southern states from Delaware to Texas.

Governor Nathan Deal

Governor Deal announced his Complete College Georgia Initiative on Thursday morning during a news conference at the State Capitol in Atlanta.

“We must increase the number of students with access to higher education and ensure that these students graduate with post-secondary degrees in a timely manner,” Deal said.  “We know this problem is significant.  Less than a quarter of full-time students at two-year colleges ever graduate and only 44 percent at four-year colleges get their degree within six years.  We also know the problem is fixable.”

One goal will be to ensure higher education becomes more seamless.  A common concern has been the difficulty that students sometimes encounter when they attempt to transfer credits between schools, especially between technical college and university system institutions.

Part of the $1 million grant will improve remedial education at four schools: the Coastal College of Georgia and Georgia Gwinnett College in the university system; and, Athens Technical College and DeKalb Technical College in the technical colleges system.

A new scholarship program will focus on low-income middle school students who have college potential and it will provide support through high school.  Students who complete the program will receive tuition scholarships.  Private partners are being sought to assist with seed funding.

The Governor’s Office will also create a commission to focus on changes to higher education funding, similar to an existing commission that is working now on K-to-12 education funding.

Complete College America was established two years ago by Stan Jones who is a former Indiana state commissioner of higher education.  CCA receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, in addition to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Other $1 million grant winning states include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland and Tennessee.  Two states will be announced soon.  Thirty-three states applied.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 4, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Immediate Hurdles Gone, Are Georgia Special Schools on Safe Ground?

Mike Klein

After six weeks of angst, most but not all former state commission charter schools will be back in business this August now that the state Board of Education has thrown them a life preserver.

Nine schools received two-year state special school charters and two had their local district charters affirmed Tuesday morning.  Two other schools received state board approval earlier this month and two or possibly three others are not expected to open this fall.

Truth be told, there were no surprises after the state Department of Education said Monday that eleven schools would be recommended for approval.  But there was substantial relief and a sense the pressure is off just six weeks after the state Supreme Court overturned the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, tossing 16 schools and 15,000 students into educational peril.

“Their futures were settled today,” said a relieved looking state schools Superintendent John Barge.  “We’re happy,” said Stephanie Reid, board chair at the Georgia Connections Academy online learning school which expects 900 students in August.  “It’s an important hurdle,” said Georgia Charter Schools Association executive vice president Andrew Lewis.

Clearing immediate hurdles does not clear the playing field.  All sides recognize there is always the possibility that a lawsuit could be filed to challenge the legality of state special charter schools.  “At this point our legal folks feel confident that we are on safe grounds,” Barge said.

The state special charters authorized on Tuesday are designed to bridge the next two school years that begin in August and end in May 2013.  Several other next steps will seek to clarify the authorization and funding steps for future charter schools that do not have local authorization.

First, the General Assembly is expected to consider placing a constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would ask voters to override the Supreme Court decision.  The net result would be to legitimize a state commission that could authorize charter schools and allow local property tax dollars to follow the pupil, even if local school boards disagree with the authorization.

Second, Governor Nathan Deal’s office and the General Assembly have begun a top-to-bottom review of how the state should fund public schools.  The vehicle is a special commission created by the 2011 General Assembly. The bill that created the commission calls for a two-year study, but some legislators would like to finish sooner.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will help.

All nine charter schools approved Tuesday will receive between $2,700 to $4,400 in state and federal dollars, but no local property tax dollars.  The same is true for the Georgia Cyber Academy / Odyssey School combination which the board approved a couple weeks ago.

The state board also affirmed local school district charters granted by Gwinnett County to Ivy Preparatory Academy and by DeKalb County to The Museum School of Avondale Estates.  Those two schools are eligible for state and federal dollars, and also local property tax dollars.  Ivy Prep originally rejected Gwinnett’s charter before later deciding to accept it.

“The bottom line for us was we wanted to make a decision that was in the best interests of the kids,” said Christopher Kunney, who is vice chairman of the Ivy Preparatory Academy board.  “Regardless of the history with Gwinnett, regardless of what was pending or not pending or proposed, we had to think about opening a school in the fall.”

State brick-and-mortar special charter schools approved Tuesday are Atlanta Heights Charter in Atlanta, Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology in Statesboro, Cherokee Charter in Canton, Coweta Charter in Senoia, Fulton Leadership in Atlanta, Heritage Preparatory in Atlanta and Pataula Charter in Edison.  Two digital online learning schools were approved, Georgia Connections Academy and Provost Academy.

Chattahoochee Hills Charter in south Fulton decided it will not try to open in August.  Peachtree Hope Charter in DeKalb County recently split ways with its education management partner and Peachtree will need to submit a new application to the state board, possibly next month.

Tuesday’s meeting was also the symbolic last breath for the Georgia Charter Schools Commission that will officially fade to black on Thursday when the state fiscal year ends.  Mark Peevy, the outgoing and only executive director, has been trying to place four staff members into other state positions. Peevy said he does not have anything new lined up for himself.

There was no cake, but there were many folks saying thanks.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clinton at Charters Conference; Deal Meets With Gates Foundation Today

Mike Klein

Good morning from the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference at the World Congress Center in Atlanta.  Former President Bill Clinton will deliver the morning keynote address to some 4,000 conference attendees.  The 42nd President pushed charter schools development during his eight-year administration, increasing them from virtually none to more than 2,000.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation has learned Governor Nathan Deal, state schools Superintendent John Barge, legislators and several influential business leaders will meet with a representative from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today to discuss Georgia education reform and potentially, financial assistance for the former state commission charter schools.

Topic Number One in Georgia is the fallout from last month’s state Supreme Court decision that overturned the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.  The state is determining how many of 16 state commission schools can re-open in August, serving about 15,600 students.  Two sources have said it is unlikely that all 16 commission-approved schools will re-open in August.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a significant education footprint, noting on its website, “The foundation has set an ambitious goal in K-12 education: to graduate all students college-ready. Currently, only a third of students graduate on-time with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed beyond high school.  Together with our partners, we are working to provide all students—especially low-income and minority students—with the opportunity to realize their full potential.”

Mike Klein Online and the GPPF Forum will update today and Wednesday from the Charter Schools Conference.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Higher Ed Still a Good Deal; Many HOPE Students Underachieve

Mike Klein

Colleges like ice cream come in many flavors and specialties.  Some cost more than others and way out there you have gelato which costs more per gallon than gasoline.

Recent headlines make it seem like Georgia higher education carries gelato pricing.  HOPE scholarship cuts dominated headlines before this week when higher university system tuition and fees were announced for next year.   A new Associated Press study released this week pointed to financial problems as the biggest reason students consider dropping out of college.

Despite all that gloom, national data comparisons conclusively show that Georgia students are still getting a lot of value for their education dollars, even if they have to dig somewhat deeper into their wallets.  But evidence also demonstrates many HOPE scholars squander their opportunity to receive quality educations with substantial scholarship assistance.

First, let’s discuss how Georgia‘s new higher education tuition and fees compare nationally.

College Board data for this year reports public four-year schools average $7,605 and two-year schools average $2,713 in tuition and fees. The Board says nearly half (47%) of all full-time students nationally pay $9,000 or less per year for tuition and fees.  All national and Georgia data is for in-state resident students; out of state students pay significantly higher tuition.

Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State and Georgia Health Sciences University (formerly the Medical College of Georgia) will charge the state’s most expensive tuition and fees next year — $8,182 per year at Georgia, Georgia State and GHSU. Georgia Tech will be $200 higher.  Next year tuition and fee levels still compare favorably with College Board national data.

All other Georgia state-supported universities and two-year colleges will have lower total tuition and fees.  Again, if you look at the College Board’s $7,605 tuition and fees average cost per year at four-year schools, comparable numbers will become $6,234 at Kennesaw State and five other universities and $4,901 at Albany State and six other universities. These are good deals.

Full-time annual student tuition and fees will total $3,276 at seven-of-eight four-year colleges with slightly higher charges at Georgia Gwinnett College.  Annual tuition at all eight two-year colleges will be $2,970. Yes, higher than current charges but favorable to national averages.

The Associated Press higher education costs poll published Wednesday found 60% of students nationwide rely on loans, two-thirds work part-time, 60% have parental support and 60% have scholarships. The AP reported that average student loan debt exceeds $23,000. The poll was conducted by Stanford University with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Georgia HOPE scholarship changes were made for financial reasons. HOPE has been drawing down its reserves and the entire balance could have been wiped out next year. That was the reason to reduce the scholarship which will fund 87.4% of tuition for most students next fall.

There has been no small measure of angst about changes to HOPE, tuition and fees.  But evidence also clearly demonstrates thousands of Georgia students squander their scholarship opportunity. They do not maintain their grades so they lose their aid. Nearly two-thirds who start with HOPE lose it.   More than half lose it after one year.

The University System of Georgia maintains records on every HOPE student. The newest data covers students who were fall 2003 freshmen and it tracks them through spring 2009.

** 24,415 students began fall 2003 classes as HOPE freshmen.

** 13,136 students (53.8%) lost HOPE after 30 academic hours (one year).

** 2,338 more students (9.5%) lost HOPE after 60 academic hours (two years).

** 1,119 more students (4.5%) lost HOPE after 90 academic hours (three years).

** 7,253 graduates (29.7%) who began with HOPE scholarships kept the financial assistance and graduated within six years after their initial university system enrollment in fall 2003.

** Another 1,482 graduates (6% of the 2003 freshman class) lost HOPE but regained the scholarship or they were initially ineligible but earned HOPE by their grade point averages.

** Total: 24,415 HOPE eligible freshmen, just 8,735 HOPE graduates (35.7%) within six years.

Even at somewhat higher prices, Georgia higher education is a solid investment.  But thousands of students who could receive HOPE educations are kicking it down the road.  That should be the focus of the next conversation.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

April 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment