Georgia to urge high school seniors to apply to college in streamlined process


ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's public colleges and universities want high school seniors to know there's a place for them in higher education and soon will be mailing a letter to the state's 120,000 seniors, urging them to claim their spot.

Gov. Brian Kemp and others unveiled the new program Thursday, encouraging more young people to attend college. They say college will help students earn more over the long run and give the state a better-qualified workforce.

“We’re going to make sure that they know there’s an opportunity for affordable, quality education out there for them in our own state,” Kemp told a crowd Thursday at a workforce summit in downtown Atlanta.

The Georgia Match program is part of a nationwide trend called direct admission. Colleges tell potential students they are guaranteed a place based on existing grades and promise admission if they submit a streamlined application.

“The letter is going to reach students that never contemplated going to college or applying to college. They may have never even thought that college was a possibility for them," said Andy Parsons, the executive vice president of the Georgia Student Finance Commission, said in a Tuesday briefing. "And so that’s really the big idea. We want them to know that there’s an affordable public education available to them in Georgia.”

Georgia's 22 technical colleges are participating, as well as 23 of the 26 University System of Georgia institutions. All are waiving application fees during November to encourage seniors to apply now. All high school graduates are eligible to apply to a technical college, and the letters will indicate which state colleges and universities a student is eligible for, using grades the state already collects to administer the HOPE Scholarship program.

The University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia College and State University are not participating because they require a standardized test and consider additional factors before offering admission. However, Georgia Tech is waiving application fees for Georgia students in November.

Idaho pioneered direct admissions in 2015, seeing new college students increase by more than 8% and in-state enrollment increase by almost 12% over a two-year period, according to a 2022 study. Other states including New York and Minnesota have also launched direct admission programs.

Experts say many students don't know if they're qualified for college, or know how to navigate choosing and applying. When colleges offer admission directly, students no longer have to overcome those obstacles.

Georgia officials say more than 50,000 of 2021's high school graduates either went directly to work or have an unknown status. Those people are targets because college graduates typically earn more money and are less likely to be unemployed than those who only graduate from high school.

The Georgia Match letter and accompanying publicity are meant to be a yearly fall ritual for seniors, their families and their high school counselors from now on.

“This is not junk mail,” Kemp said. “This is your ticket to to economic prosperity in the state of Georgia.”

A 2023 study also found that direct admission increases applications, particularly among students who aren't white, whose parents didn't go to college, or whose families have low incomes. But that study's authors, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Jennifer Delaney and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Taylor Odle, found students who got direct admissions offers were not more likely to enroll. They concluded other barriers, including college costs, were holding back applicants.

That's where Georgia officials say the state's HOPE Scholarship and HOPE Grant programs can help. The grant program pays for two years of technical college tuition for any high school graduate, as long as the student maintains a C average. There is also enhanced aid for students studying in career fields the state classifies as being in high demand.

The scholarship program pays for four years of college or university tuition for any student who graduates high school with a B average and maintains a B average in college.

For colleges, the program could increase students as Georgia's number of high school graduates is peaking. The number of Georgia high school students graduating in 2037 will be 12% smaller than in 2025, the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education projects, based on birth rates and migration.

The program could also help reach minority students after the abolition of racial preferences in college admissions by the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Department of Education recently suggested. No Georgia public colleges have used such preferences since 2001.