Skip to main content


Higher Education Re-Set: Georgia’s Next Governor Must Prioritize Overhauling the Higher Ed System in a Way that Includes All Georgians

Penn GSE Study Calls for Changes to Educating Georgia’s Low-Income and Minority Students –Current Policies Are Neither Affordable nor Effective

Media Inquiries:
Kat Stein at 215-898-9642 or 
 Jeff Frantz at 215-898-3269 or

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Philadelphia – A new report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE) finds that higher education in Georgia is one of the least affordable in the country, and persistently gives the majority of its financial breaks to affluent families – with fewer opportunities for Blacks, Hispanics, and the poor. The report, produced by Penn GSE’s Institute for Research on Higher Education (IRHE), finds that Georgia’s higher education tuition has doubled since the Great Recession – while the state ranks near the bottom of states in college enrollment. The analysis provides a number of recommendations for a course correction to meet Georgia’s workforce needs by 2030 – including a call for the new governor to create a non-partisan commission on long-term education attainment planning and an emphasis on creating more robust opportunities for Georgia’s Blacks, Hispanics, and the poor. 

The findings come as Georgia finds itself locked in a gubernatorial race that has grabbed the national spotlight.

“Georgia’s incoming governor will have an immense amount of control over the higher education system in the state of Georgia, and therefore its workforce and economic future,” said Joni Finney, Executive Director of IRHE. “We ask that the candidates take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the state’s policies and systems, and work to remedy some of Georgia’s most pressing challenges.” 

Read the full report here.

The report, IRHE’s first in-depth look at the state since 2012, comes after the University of Georgia system’s recent campus consolidations. Georgia is an important case study, because its changing demographics reflect the nation’s increasing racial and ethnic diversity.

Highlights of the recommendations include:

Independent State Commission – IRHE recommends that the incoming governor launch an independent state commission to develop a more stable, less politicized entity for facilitating postsecondary opportunity for all residents. The commission would be focused on building consensus, both within state government and with the public, and creating a long-term agenda that connects all the policy pieces to create more effective higher ed spending and accountability. Part of the state’s 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 represents the public interest. Tennessee and Virginia have both made significant improvements with this model.

Prioritize Significant Improvements in Attainment – The state can start by innovating policy to improve the high school graduation rates of African American and Hispanic Georgians. Next, the state can look to replicate Georgia State University’s success in the areas of African American and Hispanic enrollment and completion at other institutions. Additionally, Georgia should explore policies to improve educational outcomes for low-income Georgians, who are increasingly locked out of postsecondary options as college becomes less affordable in nearly all sectors. Evidence from the past seven years suggests that the Complete College Georgia initiative has not fulfilled this role for the state. The Governor’s Alliance of Education Agency Heads (AEAH), a gubernatorial initiative, has played an important role in Georgia, but there is little guarantee that this initiative will be sustained with new leadership in the governor’s mansion. 

Need-Based Aid – Georgia should develop robust need-based higher ed aid programs for its residents. Georgia’s merit-based aid system has successfully kept students in Georgia for higher education. However, the system disproportionately funnels scholarship aid to high school students from affluent families, while leaving behind too many poor residents, minorities, and adult learners.


For over 25 years, Dr. Finney has worked with state leaders to improve higher education policy. Dr. Finney led a project to develop the nation's first state-by-state report cards on higher education performance, and co-created the State Review Project, a series of reports that analyze how state policies shape the successes and failures of our nation's higher education system. She recently published the College Affordability Diagnosis and, this past summer, she published College Opportunity at Risk. Her deep dives into states such as Tennessee have become national examplars – most recently she testified for the Illinois legislature on their policies, and the successes that Tennessee is having with their own policies.

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 on higher education. IRHE’s mission to examine the policy forces that shape higher education has produced practical tools for researchers and policymakers, including an examination of college affordability in all 50 states. The Center frequently publishes reports on state performance and policy, with upcoming reports to include Texas, Washington, and other key states that are emblematic of state government policies nationwide.