Fewer high school graduates finish college

ATLANTA --- Education officials announced last week that the state's high school graduation rate hit a record of 79 percent, but those students are likely to be less successful finishing public colleges in Georgia.

The most recent college graduation rates for the University System of Georgia show just 48 percent of entering freshmen complete their bachelor's degree in six years. That's tracking students who entered one of the 35 public colleges as a first-time freshman in 2001 and graduated by 2007, according to figures from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

High school graduation rates have climbed more than 15 points since 2003. This year's figure represents a 3-point rise.

"A 3-point jump in our graduation rate means that nearly 4,500 more students graduated with a full diploma this year than did last year," said State Superintendent Kathy Cox. "Our high school principals, teachers and students should take a lot of pride in the fact that more students than ever are graduating in Georgia."

Mrs. Cox's department expects its efforts to begin paying off in improved rates on the college level. Today's 10th-grade students will be the first class to graduate with four years of math and science, a more rigorous curriculum, and no choice of a less demanding general studies diploma.

Of the 2001 high school graduates who enrolled in public colleges, more than one in four needed remedial classes.

The university system's Board of Regents set a target for graduation rates of 49 percent for the freshmen who enrolled in 2002. That meant they had to have completed bachelor's degrees within six years, the standard for comparison nationally. Rates at research universities such as Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia should reach 68 percent. State universities, including Armstrong Atlantic, Augusta State and Savannah State, would aim for 34 percent.

All surrounding states except Alabama have higher rates than Georgia, and the national rate is 56 percent.

Repeatedly over the years, the regents have created task forces to address graduation rates, most recently in 2004 and 2006. The board is operating on the recommendations of the latest committee's report, presented in 2007. The authors recommended four goals, which the regents accepted:

- Every school had to create a "first-year experience program" to draw freshmen into campus life.

- The schools had to work harder at making sure seniors didn't drop out simply because the courses they needed weren't available.

- Each college had to create a student employment office to address the No. 1 reason dropouts gave for leaving: money.

- All the colleges had to draft their own action plans.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com.

BY THE NUMBERS

79%

Georgia's high school graduation rate in 2009, an all-time high

48%

Percentage of freshmen who entered a University System of Georgia school in 2001 and graduated within six years