ATLANTA — A bill requiring the University System of Georgia to raise the percentage of in-state students offered early admission to the state’s top public universities drew opposition Thursday during a legislative committee hearing.
The presidents of the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech told members of the Senate Higher Education Committee the legislation is unnecessary and would lower the standards for admission to the university system’s top campuses.
Senate Bill 282 would require the university system’s four research universities – UGA, Georgia Tech, Augusta University and Georgia State University – to make sure at least 90% of students offered early admission are from Georgia.
The schools, particularly UGA and Georgia Tech, have become increasingly hard to get into since the HOPE Scholarship program was created during the 1990s. The lottery-funded program covers all or most tuition costs for qualified students, a strong motivator for the highest achieving Georgia high school students to attend college in state.
“I want to keep our best and brightest kids here,” said Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, the bill’s chief sponsor.
But University of Georgia President Jere Morehead said the 90% mandate is unnecessary because UGA already enrolls a high percentage of in-state students. He said 88% of UGA’s current cohort of undergraduates is from Georgia, while in-state students account for 82% of the freshman class.
Morehead also argued the 90% in-state requirement for early admissions would skew UGA’s student population more toward Georgia’s urban and suburban communities because most students accepted early are from metro Atlanta or the Savannah, Augusta or Columbus areas. Consequently, the bill would “disenfranchise” rural Georgia students, he said.
Georgia Tech President Angel Cabrera said the legislation would damage the state’s economy by dissuading out-of-state students from seeking early admission to Tech, which has built a national reputation and competes with prestigious public universities including the University of California-Berkeley.
High achieving out-of-state students who come to Tech tend to stay in Georgia and provide the backbone for the state’s fast-growing technology industries, Cabrera said.
“Attracting students from out of state is increasingly important to our economy,” he said. “They are the reasons companies across the nation are increasingly calling Georgia home.”
While many of the students admitted early to Georgia Tech are from out of state, Cabrera said in-state students still account for 60% of the university’s total enrollment.
Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, suggested moving away from the 90% mandate and simply requiring the research universities to consider whether an early admission applicant is from Georgia in deciding offers.
But university system Chancellor Steve Wrigley argued there’s no need to tinker with what the universities are already doing.
“Their approaches make sense,” he said. “Both institutions are self-conscious about Georgia students. What they’re doing now is working.”
The committee took no action on the bill Thursday, and it’s uncertain whether or when a vote will take place.