Greg Domin: Bridging the money gap in higher education

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerJanuary 11, 2013 

As the New Year begins, it means the Georgia's legislators are about to convene again to wrestle with policies and the state's budget.

In these lean economic times, setting Georgia's budget -- which, by law, must be balanced every year -- has been a daunting exercise. State agencies have been repeatedly forced to trim their budgets to match up with declining state revenues.

About 55 percent of the state budget in this fiscal year is directed toward education, including K-12, the Technical College System of Georgia and the University System of Georgia. While no one will disregard the importance of education for this state, the fact of the matter is that education budgets have been significantly cut over the last few years. In the University System, for example, our state funding per full-time student is now at about the same levels as they were in 1994.

This 2012-13 budget wrangling begins at the same time state colleges and universities are working on ways to address the need for more of Georgia's students to complete a post-secondary credential. Currently, of every 100 Georgia public 9th-grade students, only 59 will graduate high school. Of those 59 students, 29 will start a 4-year college program. Sadly, of those 59 students, only 14 will graduate within the four-year time frame.

Clearly, we can and must do better, since 90 percent of the fast-growing jobs in the 21st-century economy will require some sort of post-secondary degree.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Population Survey in 2011, the unemployment rate for those who held a high school diploma or less was almost 24 percent. Conversely, the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor's degree was 4.9 percent.

Putting that in terms of earning power, a high school graduate in 2011 is estimated to earn $1.5 million over the course of their lifetime. A person with a bachelor's degree will earn over $2.5 million over their lifetime, a difference of roughly $1.1 million.

Obviously, the well-being of the U.S. economy going forward depends on its citizens obtaining meaningful certificates and degrees at a much higher rate than today. The goal is to increase the percentage of Americans who hold a post-secondary degree to 60 percent by 2025. This goal includes both traditional as well as non-traditional students (those already in the workforce).

According to Dr. Houston Davis, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer of the University System of Georgia (USG), many of its institutions such as Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, Southern Polytechnic, East Georgia and Columbus State, to name a few, have mobilized their "resources to strengthen educational partnerships to ensure that Georgians have a seamless educational system that is both affordable and of the highest quality by partnering with grades K-12 for college readiness, develop new and flexible pathways to degree completion, ensure support for at-risk students, and maintaining the overall quality of teaching and learning throughout the USG."

The future of Georgia depends on our higher education system utilizing its assets and resources efficiently and effectively and in creative ways. Anything short of such an investment in our future is simply unacceptable.

Gregory Domin, associate provost for graduate education, distance learning, and international affairs, Columbus State University.

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