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, that group of esteemed citizens who make policy decisions about how the University System of Georgia 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. This is a major problem for the regents because 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. The most alarming indicator is that the percentage of Georgia high school graduates who enroll in a public 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.”
Perhaps this new computer program will work, or perhaps it will fall a little short. The irony here is that the regents are looking at a complicated technical fix to a problem they could solve with a couple of simple actions.
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,” after the DREAM Act, a bill that would give them a path to citizenship. They were brought to America as children by their parents and in most cases have lived here ever since.
Many of these Dreamers have graduated high school and would like to attend a University System institution, but a regents policy bans them from competitive-admission schools like UGA and requires them to pay the out-of-state tuition rate at open-enrollment institutions like the University of North Georgia. 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 these policies, because immigrant students have been showing up at board meetings for the past six years to protest it. In fact, about 30 minutes before Hauer talked to the regents at that recent meeting about his new computer app, a group of tuition protesters were forcibly removed from the meeting room by state troopers.
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.
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