College Access Grant Targets Low-Income Families, Returning Adult Students
University System Focuses on Two-Thirds of Adult Georgians Who Lack College Degrees
Atlanta — June 10, 2009
A College Access Challenge Grant is enabling the University System of Georgia (USG) and its partners to target the two-thirds of adult Georgians who do not hold a college degree. The goal is to galvanize these individuals to change their situation, thereby boosting the state’s economic growth. In an update delivered to members of the Board of Regents today, those responsible for implementing the grant outlined the strategies being used that focus specifically on low-income families as well as people who started but failed to complete work on their college degrees.
“Young people from low-income families are much less likely to graduate from high school, attend college or earn a bachelor’s degree,” said Lynne Weisenbach, a USG vice chancellor. “We know that we can significantly impact key social and economic indicators in Georgia such as median income, life expectancy and even reduce the size of the state’s prison population by boosting the number of residents who hold college degrees, so we are using this funding to target low-income K-12 students and adults with some college but no degree.”
The U.S. Department of Education grant — $2 million per year for up to two years — places the University System in a partnership with the Governor’s Office, community and business groups across the state, as well as the Alliance of Education Agency Heads (AEAH), which collaborates on policies and programs to ensure that all Georgia students receive an excellent education, from pre-K to Ph.D.
Principal Investigator Patricia Paterson described for the regents an effort that includes:
- updating, enhancing and expanding access to GAcollege411, a free online resource provided by the state that helps students plan for, apply and pay for college;
- promoting an understanding of the benefits and opportunities of postsecondary education to students from low-income families;
- staging an annual event, Georgia Apply to College Week, at high schools serving large numbers of students from low-income families;
- conducting outreach activities and enhancing programs for adults returning to college; working to engage chambers of commerce, civic groups, PTAs, graduation coaches, after-school caregivers and others around the state in setting high expectations for and nurturing the aspirations of low-income students; and
- boosting participation by low-income students in dual-enrollment courses which allow them to earn college credit while still in high school by providing funds for books and mandatory student fees.
One of the ways in which the University System of Georgia is serving low-income students is through its Early College Initiative, which enables students underserved by higher education to earn up to two years of college credit from USG institutions while completing high school. Just two weeks ago, the charter participants in this initiative, from Atlanta’s Carver Early College, celebrated a 100 percent graduation rate and 100 percent of them have been accepted to at least one college.
Paterson also used the presentation to the regents to announce the creation of an Adult Learning Consortium comprising five USG institutions — Atlanta Metropolitan College, Bainbridge College, Fort Valley State University, Georgia Southwestern State University and Valdosta State University (which will serve as the lead institution). The five campuses have each received $25,000 of the College Access Challenge Grant funds to work together to improve services for adult students returning to college, expand programs that focus on strategic regional workforce needs, test the awarding of credit for learning acquired through life experience and pass on their best practices to the entire University System.
“The Adult Learning Consortium is an exciting new project that focuses on bringing adults back to college,” Paterson told the regents. “There are nearly 1 million Georgians — 22 percent of the workforce — who have earned some college credit, but have no degree to show for it. We have developed strategies that can transform the way we as a University System work with these students, who have complex needs and concerns different from those of our traditional-age students.”
Valdosta State University (VSU) piloted an adult-learning initiative this past year and has successfully experimented with a prior-learning assessment program (PLA). Paterson introduced a VSU freshman, Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Mark Smith, who recently returned to college after a 25-year career in the military and was able to earn credit for what he learned during those years away from the classroom.
“It has always been a goal of mine to go back to college, but while I was working, it was difficult to fit it into my schedule,” Smith said. “Now that I’m free to go back to school, the PLA program has really helped me to expedite my goal of obtaining a degree in psychology. It allows me, as a non-traditional student, to use my training and work experience as it relates to specific courses at VSU, and the counseling I’ve received as part of the assessment process has really benefitted me.”