This spring, Tech began implementing a new Pathway Program for Atlanta Public School (APS) students to receive automatic admission to the Institute up to 2 years following their high school graduation. The APS Pathway Program will operate similarly to other pathway programs already in place. A student must take 30 semester credit hours or 45 quarter credit hours at another institution and earn at least a 3.3 overall GPA and a 3.3 math/science GPA in order to receive guaranteed admission.
The biggest difference between the APS Pathway Program and Tech’s other programs, like the Arts & Sciences Pathway, the Conditional Transfer Pathway and the First-Generation Pathway, is the time period that a student has to accept the admissions offer. While the other programs only allow a student admission for one year following their high school graduation, the APS Program allows two years to accept the offer.
This is not the first time that Tech has offered support to APS students. Since 2015, the APS Scholars Program at Tech has offered automatic admission to valedictorians and salutatorians of APS, as well as full coverage of tuition and mandatory fees.
This new program comes during an unusual time for low-income students nationwide. While high school graduation rates were not largely impacted in 2020, the percentage of students who went to college following their graduation decreased dramatically.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that students in low-income, high minority high schools saw a decrease in college attendance by almost double the amount that it did for students from higher-income areas. This has major potential to affect economic mobility and income equality in low-income and minority communities moving forward, with rural America being the most vulnerable.
In Oct. 2020, USA Today found that out of the top 50 counties with the highest COVID-19 death rate, 12 were in Georgia, and all but one were rural. Included in this list were Hancock, Randolph, Terrell and Early, which are majority-minority counties that are considered to be a part of the Black Belt in Georgia.
The Black Belt is an area of fertile land stretching across the Southeast that hosted a heavy presence of slave labor historically, leading to larger Black populations that have suffered socially and economically from segregation and discrimination compared to areas with a majority-white population.
School districts in Black Belt areas have higher poverty rates and lower school enrollment rates than the rest of Georgia. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) found that between 2007 and 2018, 110,000 more students enrolled in Georgia public schools, but districts in the Black Belt lost 18,000. Even Black students in APS, which is not a part of the Black Belt, had a graduation rate 20% lower than white students in their district in 2020, as reported by APS.
While increased government funding to underperforming or low-income areas is at high demand, existing programs have unfortunately posed problems for school districts. APS went through the ringer for six years when a massive cheating scandal was uncovered, revealing that teachers and principals were intentionally changing students’ CRCT test scores at the will of the district.
This was motivated by the No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top Programs, created by President Bush and President Obama respectively, that use increased federal funding to incentivize schools to push greater test scores from students. Scandals like the one that occurred in APS have happened across the country because of these incentives, showing the potentially problematic consequences of rewarding academic achievement with better funding and higher pay.
With state and federal education reform long underway, university programs and partnerships such as the APS Pathway are providing positive incremental change to the Georgia educational landscape.
The University of Georgia (UGA) created an initiative in 2014 to recruit students at risk of dropping out or underperforming due to extenuating circumstances to a more specialized, flexible charter school. They also began a partnership with APS to expose high school students to UGA’s programs. Kennesaw State University (KSU) began a partnership with the Cumberland Academy of Georgia, a school for special needs students, with a dual enrollment program for seniors to encourage overall attendance and easier integration into college. All of these initiatives target specific areas and provide support to areas in greater need. Tech has created other programs besides the APS Pathway and Scholars Programs to help support more marginalized or disproportionately disadvantaged communities. For example, the First-Generation Pathway Program provides a transfer pathway to students with first-generation college student status, and the Talent Initiative Pathway Program provides the same for students who qualify for the Pell Grant.
However, graduation and college attendance rates in other districts, especially those in the Black Belt, suggest that Tech’s efforts to improve its accessibility in the state of Georgia have much room for expansion.
The systemic issues with schools in the previously-mentioned areas and other under-funded districts need addressing on the state level, but Tech can also follow in the footsteps of UGA and KSU with their integrative programs, or the APS Scholars Program could be made to be an extended to other school districts in need.
The APS Program is a good step in the right direction to increased access to higher education for low-income and minority students in state of Georgia.