Georgia Higher Education Policies Hurt Blacks, Hispanics and Poor, Penn Study Finds

PHILADELPHIA — Georgia’s higher education policies are making it harder for black, Hispanic and poor Georgians to get a college education, according to a new report released by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Research on Higher Education.

Higher education in Georgia lags the national average on most key measures of performance, threatening the state’s ability to compete economically, Joni Finney and Laura Perna of Penn’s Graduate School of Education write in “Perpetuating Disparity: Performance and Policy in Georgia Higher Education,” the fifth report of a five-state study.

The state’s college-age population (ages 18 to 24) is projected to increase by 40% by 2030, putting pressure on Georgia’s higher education institutions to serve more students. Most of this growth will be among blacks, who already represent a larger proportion of the population than in any other state, and Hispanics. To produce enough college-educated citizens to compete for skilled 21st-century jobs, Georgia must find a way to reduce huge disparities in educational attainment between minorities and whites.

In Georgia, black, Hispanic and poor students are much less likely than are other students to graduate from high school, enroll in college, or complete college. One problem, Finney and Perna say, is that Georgia offers little need-based financial aid. Most state financial aid to students enrolled in degree-granting programs comes in the form of Lottery-funded HOPE Scholarships, which are merit-based rather than need-based.

Because of the state’s heavy investment in HOPE Scholarships, Georgia students whose family income is in the top 20 percent receive more money from the state than do those whose families fall in the lowest 20 percent, and students in the most selective public institutions receive more state aid than those in less selective institutions. While income stratification in higher education is not unique to Georgia, Finney and Perna say, few states have explicit policies that encourage it.

Moreover, Georgia’s patterns of enrollment show stratification by race as well as by income. Black and Latino students are concentrated in private for-profit institutions, two-year institutions in the University System of Georgia, and the Technical College System. And thanks to structural impediments, students who begin their education at technical colleges, which grant workforce certificates, have a hard time transferring to USG campuses to earn associate or bachelor’s degrees.

On the positive side, Finney and Perna say, Georgia has implemented public policies and created public entities that provide a sustained statewide approach to economic and workforce development, including research competitiveness. Over time, this approach has guided and supported higher education in developing effective research partnerships and workforce training programs.

But the state has been markedly less successful at producing sustained policies linking K-12 schools to higher education, putting higher education on a sound financial footing, and developing a funding system that promotes accountability for achieving important higher education goals. Part of the problem is a lack of continuity in state higher education leadership—governors have had shifting policies and priorities, and no other voice or institution at the state level consistently speaks for all of higher education.

To compete economically with other states and nations, Finney and Perna say, Georgia must develop policies to improve the performance of its education systems and raise the educational attainment of its population. “To reach this aim, the state would need to develop finance and other state policies that are linked to statewide goals for improved higher education performance,” Finney and Perna write. “Are Georgia’s leaders up to the challenge?”

Other states in the study are Illinois, Texas, Maryland and Washington. The full report is available at:

In addition to Finney and Perna, the following people not affiliated with IRHE have agreed to be available to speak to the press about this report:

David Spence


Southern Regional Education Board



James C. Hearn

Professor and Associate Director

Institute of Higher Education, University of Georgia



About the Institute

The Institute for Research on Higher Education (IRHE), headquartered at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, conducts research relevant to policymakers and educational practitioners. For the past three years, under the leadership of its new director, Joni Finney, IRHE has collaborated with the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education to complete a five-state policy review, the State Review Project, to determine the relationship between public policy and state performance in higher education.