Regents want to boost college enrollment — but the answer is right there in front of them

[private]It was a familiar scene at the Board of Regents meeting on Tuesday.

As the meeting got underway, several audience members stood up, one after the other, and recited some version of the phrase, “To come for one of us is to come for all of us.”

Board Chair Thomas Hopkins called for the protests to stop, but different audience members kept chanting the phrase, so the meeting was hastily recessed and the regents filed out of the room.

When the meeting resumed later and protesters would still not stop interrupting, Hopkins ordered state troopers to escort the miscreants from the room. The meeting then proceeded as scheduled.

These protests have been going on at regents’ meetings for the past six years, in protest of a board policy that requires undocumented immigrants who wish to attend a University System college to pay out-of-state tuition rates.

Since these out-of-state rates are roughly three times higher than the in-state rates, that means most undocumented students are effectively priced out of a public college education in Georgia.

Sometimes the protesters are young Latinos. Sometimes, as was the case this week, they are U.S. citizens, but the regents’ response is always the same. They refuse to discuss the issue with the protesters or reconsider their tuition policy.

About 30 minutes after this week’s protest, the regents heard a presentation from Mathew Hauer, a demographer at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, about a new idea to try to boost student enrollment in the University System.

University System enrollment has been essentially flat for the past six years — down a little bit for a couple of years, up a little bit for a couple of years. The most alarming indicator here is that the percentage of Georgia high school graduates who enroll in a University System institution has slumped from 46 percent to 41 percent.

Hauer has developed an innovative computer app that is intended to 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.”

Hauer gave a detailed technical explanation to the regents 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.”

The irony here is that the regents are looking for a complicated technical fix to the problem of flat enrollment when they could mitigate the situation with a couple of simple actions on their part.

If they would rescind their policy requiring undocumented students to pay the higher out-of-state tuition rates, they would open the doors of the University System to a whole new group of potential students.

There are several thousand young immigrants in Georgia who are allowed to reside here legally under the executive order issued by Barack Obama in 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These are the people known as “Dreamers.”

Jerry Gonzalez of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) said it is difficult to determine just how many of these Dreamers would try to enroll in the University System if the tuition policy were changed.

“I would say it is hard to assess,” Gonzalez said. “What we do know is that there are over 10,000 Georgians who have DACA status. So, technically, that is a pool of potential there, but not all DACA students are college-bound.”

The other action that regents could take to address the issue of flat enrollment would be to cut tuition for all students, making a college education more affordable.

For years, Georgia and other states like New Mexico were among the leaders when it came to increases in college tuitions and fees.

The regents did go an entire year (2016-17) without raising tuition, and they held down the tuition increase to just 2 percent for the upcoming academic year.

Just as an experiment, the regents might try cutting tuition by 5 percent or some like amount for one year and see if that makes a difference in student enrollment.

© 2017 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Board of Regents , undocumented students , University System