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University system: Accreditation loss not barrier to graduates

The University System of Georgia's (USG) 35 public colleges and universities will accept graduates of Clayton County high schools regardless of what the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) does with the district's accreditation.

Last week, USG officials placed a statement about Clayton County high school graduates on the "Prospective Students" section of the university system's web site.

The statement offers some clarity to parents and students who were concerned about higher education possibilities, said a university system spokesperson.

"The University System of Georgia is dedicated to providing access to college to the students of Georgia and offers its support to the students of the Clayton County School System during this difficult time," according to a statement from the university system. "Admission to any University System of Georgia college or university will not be negatively impacted should SACS determine that the accreditation of the Clayton County School System must be revoked."

School system officials have until Sept. 1, to meet nine mandates for improvement, or at least show signs of improvement, or the district will lose its accreditation.

SACS officials cited alleged micromanagement, misuse of district funds, and unethical behavior in a February report on the school system.

USG spokesperson Diane Payne said university system officials received "lots of inquiries" about college eligibility since SACS officials announced their recommendation two months ago. "We wanted to put something up which provided some reassurances to parents and students," she added.

Students are eligible to attend a USG institution if they graduate from a high school, which falls under the authority of a local school system and/or the Georgia Department of Education, according to the university system's policies.

Payne said it protects graduates of Clayton County schools, regardless of what extra tests, or documentation a USG institution may require from those students.

"Even if it's true [about Georgia universities requiring additional work for admission], it [a lack of accreditation] shouldn't be a barrier that keeps Clayton County high school graduates from attending any college or university in this state," Payne said. "They will be eligible to attend any one of the University System of Georgia's 35 institutions as long as they meet all of the other [pre-existing] admissions requirements."

The university system includes nine, two-year colleges, such as Georgia Perimeter College and Atlanta Metropolitan College, and seven state colleges, including Gordon College, Macon State College and Middle Georgia College.

It also includes several universities, including 13 state universities (such as Clayton State University, the University of West Georgia, and Kennesaw State University); two regional universities (Georgia Southern University and Valdosta State University), and four research universities (the University of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University and the Medical College of Georgia).

Officials from Clayton State University could not be reached for comment.

The university system's statement came two weeks after the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation which guaranteed the HOPE scholarships for eligible Clayton students who graduate in either 2009 or 2010, regardless of SACS' decision on the district's accreditation.

The legislation has been sent to Gov. Sonny Perdue, who has until the middle of May to review the legislation, and either sign it into law, or veto it.

Marshall Guest, a spokesman for Perdue, said the governor's office is still in the process of reviewing the bills passed this year by the General Assembly.

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