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Demographic Data Helps Regents Shape Strategic Plan

Atlanta — January 8, 2002

In the decade of the 1990’s, Georgia’s population increased more than 26 percent, reinforcing a 70-year period of continued growth, but persistent poverty and a high percentage of births to unwed mothers help contribute to the state’s low higher education attainment rate.

“These are age-old problems that need to be addressed, and what better outfit to do it than the Board of Regents,” said University of Georgia Professor Doug Bachtel in a presentation today to the board of key demographic data. Bachtel’s presentation provided data to support the regents’ development of a new Mission Statement and Strategic Plan that will guide the Board’s policy decisions for the University System over the next five years. Among other strategic goals, the regents have placed a special emphasis on increasing college participation rates by African-American males and non-traditional students.

Bachtel noted that Georgia’s population grew 26.4 percent in the past decade, double the national average of 13.2 percent. And while Georgia’s African-American population as a percentage of the total population dropped from highs in the mid-40 percent range in 1900 to 28.7 percent in 2000, the last two decades have seen a rebound in this percentage.

“Georgia is a growth state – one of the fastest growing in the nation,” Bachtel said. “The growth started in the late 60’s and hasn’t slowed down. In fact, Atlanta is the second-fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S. Growth has been a constant throughout the state. In the 1980’s, 43 counties lost population, but in the 1990’s only eight counties saw a population drop.”

Bachtel also presented data that indicate Georgia’s population growth increasingly is driven by net migration. Between 1970 and 1980, Georgia’s population increase was split almost 50-50 between natural increase and net migration. By 1990-99, net migration accounted for almost 60 percent of Georgia’s population increase. The implications are that between 1989 and 1996, Georgia was the largest net importer in the U.S. of persons with a bachelor’s degree. This development forces the regents to address how to improve college participation rates of native Georgians in order to keep pace with economic growth and the demands for a college-educated workforce.

Bachtel pointed out data that the percentage of Georgians aged 25 years and older without a high-school education has dropped from 81.6 percent in 1940 to 29.1 percent in 1990. However statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics show that improved high-school graduation rates haven’t produced significant improvement in Georgia’s postsecondary participation rates. In the fall of 1997, Georgia ranked 48th for the percentage of its population aged 18-24 enrolled in postsecondary education, at 24.6 percent compared to the national average of 31.4 percent.

Georgia’s growth also is driven by a strong and diversified economy, Bachtel said, but the benefits have not been distributed evenly across the state. He pointed out that more than one million Georgians live below the poverty line, and that 94 Georgia counties have a per capita income lower than that of the state of Mississippi, which has the nation’s lowest. “This has huge implications for higher education,” Bachtel said.

Another key factor that inhibits college participation is the rate of birth to unwed mothers. In Georgia, 34 percent of all Georgia births are to unwed mothers. “It is important to have an educated, female population, because educated mothers tend to make sure their children are educated,” Bachtel said.

The median age of Georgia’s population, which has steadily increased over the decades, also has implications for higher education, Bachtel said. In 2000, the median age in Georgia was 33.4 years, but Bachtel pointed out that African Americans are younger (with a median age of 29.3) than whites (with a median age of 36.2). As the older white population tends to flee cities, this lowers the tax base and helps to create poor school districts with a majority African-American student body. He noted that in addition to Atlanta, “all of Georgia’s second tier cities have lost population due to ‘white flight’ to the suburbs.”

The increasing age of Georgians ties in with the regents’ own data that indicate additional efforts are needed to see more older, non-traditional students as well as African-American males enrolled in college.

Georgia ranks 50th in postsecondary participation rates among two non-traditional age groups. In Fall 1997, only 4.5 percent of those aged 25-39 were enrolled in college (compared to a national average of 6.7 percent), and only 1.1 percent of those aged 40-64 (compared to a national average of 2.1 percent).

While the University System’s African-American enrollment stood at 22.4 percent for fall 2001 – closely mirroring the state’s overall African American population – the number of African-American male students is low. For every two African-American females enrolled, there is just one African-American male in the University System.

Another key group whose growth has higher education implications are Hispanics, Bachtel said. At an “official” growth rate during the 1990’s of 5.3 percent - and a more realistic rate that Bachtel estimates may be closer to 10 percent – Hispanics are one of the fastest-growing groups in Georgia. But they tend to be concentrated in certain geographic regions of the state, based upon the economic opportunity available in the poultry, carpet, agricultural, and service industries. The regents have made addressing the educational needs of this emerging population a priority in recent years.

Dr. Bachtel is a professor in the Department of Housing and Consumer Economics at UGA. He is editor of The Georgia County Guide, a statistical fact book covering all of the state’s 159 counties.

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