While the number of adults graduating from college is on the rise in Georgia, the sluggish pace leaves the state 32nd in the country for those who have completed degrees beyond high school, with the Augusta metro area trailing the state and nation.
According to a study released by the Lumina Foundation last week, 36 percent of adults in Georgia and 33 percent in metro Augusta held two- or four-year degrees as of 2011, the most recent data available. Even as demand for skilled workers grows, only 39 percent of adults in the U.S. held college degrees, up slightly from the year before but behind the pace needed to reach the national goal of 60 percent college attainment by 2025.
“It’s all about jobs,” said Dewayne Matthews, the vice president for policy and strategy at Lumina, an independent organization focused on higher education. “The U.S. economy is creating jobs in this recovery since the recession, but we know that the vast majority of jobs being created today are jobs that require some form of postsecondary education.”
According to Gov. Nathan Deal’s Complete College Georgia initiative, more than 60 percent of jobs will require a certificate, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree by 2020.
Augusta Economic Development Authority Executive Director Walter Sprouse said employers that consider the Augusta area have varying requirements for educational levels and skills.
“Some require a college degree; some don’t,” he said.
Ceil Polk, the human resources manager at PCS Nitrogen, one of the area’s largest employers, said most of her recruits are found outside Augusta. Although her company advertises positions locally, Polk said the more qualified candidates are coming from beyond the Savannah River.
“I don’t know when I’ve seen someone that we’ve hired that had their degree from (Georgia Regents University),” Polk said. “They’re going to University of Georgia or Georgia Tech or Clemson or University of South Carolina.”
Like other colleges across the country, GRU is working on remediation and tutoring to help produce more graduates while also helping them obtain their degrees in less time. The university hopes to have a 10,684 enrollment in 2020, a 12 percent increase from fall 2012, according to Vice Provost Roman Cibirka.
To improve on the dismal 20 percent six-year graduation rate Augusta State University had in 2010, before consolidating with Georgia Health Sciences University to form GRU, the institution is planning an “early alert system” for the fall, which will give students and their advisers earlier notice when they are falling behind or fail a test.
The university is encouraging all students to take 15 credit hours per semester so they can graduate in four years, incur less student debt and expedite the path to the workforce.
Lumina’s report found that the number of younger Georgians earning college degrees is surpassing older Americans.
Among adults 25 to 34 in Georgia, 36 percent held at least a two-year degree, compared with 40 percent nationally.
A gap remains among ethnicities, however, as 58 percent of Asians have a degree in Georgia compared with 41 percent of whites, 32 percent of Native Americans, 29 percent of blacks and 18 percent of Hispanics.
Lumina President and CEO Jamie Merisotis said state and federal policymakers must enact formal goals and plans for change, which Georgia has begun with Complete College Georgia.
Merisotis said the K-12 system must be improved and that funding for higher education must be tied to needed outcomes. He said rising college costs and the financial aid system must be reformed and incentives for college completion must grow.
If the college attainment rate continues at the current pace, 48 percent of adults nationally and 42 percent in Georgia will have completed some form of higher education by 2025 – well under the 60 percent goal.
“Clearly the system of higher education that we have today has served us well historically,” Merisotis said, “but it will not serve us well going forward unless we create significant change that will create the opportunities for those much larger numbers of students to get into college, to succeed in college and to do better in their postsecondary studies.”