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Deal, college presidents seeking 250,000 more graduates

Gov. Nathan Deal is leading the push for Georgia to produce an additional 250,000 college graduates by 2020.

Deal has challenged school presidents in the University System of Georgia (USG), presidents in the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), representatives from Georgia’s independent colleges, and the business community, to find ways to produce more graduates as part of the Complete College Georgia initiative.

Deal said the initiative calls for the state’s public and private colleges to add graduates — whether by a one-year certificate, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree. This initiative was first introduced in August 2011.

“Any significant increase in the number of Georgians who complete college will require a historic new era of coordination between the state’s public and private colleges and the business community,” Deal said, Tuesday. “To have a successful future in Georgia, and remain competitive nationwide, and globally, we have to have an educated workforce, and that means we need to do a better job getting people into college, make sure they receive a high-quality education, and then graduate them.”

The Complete College America Alliance is a group of 30 states committed to increasing the number of students earning a college degree or credential. The state received a $1 million grant from Complete College America in August to focus on transforming remedial education, a core component of the Complete College Georgia effort.

The Georgia Competitiveness Initiative report, which included the input of more than 4,000 Georgians, stressed the importance of K-12 education as part of any effort to increase college graduation levels.

Deal said in the last six months, USG and TCSG officials have developed a statewide plan to meet the Complete College Georgia targets. Those officials stressed there’s much work to be done.

“Make no mistake, this marks a big shift in higher education in Georgia,” said USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby. “To do this right, we have to work toward the long term and envision how higher education can better serve the people of Georgia, and we have to do this collaboratively with all players in the state.”

TCSG Commissioner Ron Jackson added, “Our institutions have been making strides toward improving access and graduation rates, but we have to do more. We needed to come together and have open discussions about what we can do as a state.”

Deal said a recent Georgetown University study indicated that 42 percent of the Georgia population has some form of a college degree, but that to be economically competitive that figure should be 60 percent by 2020.

James Applegate, vice president of program development for the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation, said to meet that goal the system needs to find ways to serve those for whom the current system of higher education doesn’t work.

He cited 35.8 million working-age adults nationwide who attend college for some time, but do not earn a degree.

“Military personnel and minority groups also should be a focus in terms of ensuring more individuals are able to complete some level of college,” said Applegate.