‘Harvard for the masses’ — at a community college in Atlanta (subscription)

By: | June 28, 2021

Six years ago, just 6 percent of the students enrolled at Atlanta’s Perimeter College earned a degree in three years. That year, the college merged with neighboring Georgia State University, which has a well-deserved reputation for boosting graduation rates and closing the opportunity gap. The effect has been astonishing — now, more than 80 percent of Perimeter’s full-time students have either graduated, transferred or are still enrolled within three years of starting college.

Not only has the graduation rate risen, the opportunity gap has been wiped out. At Perimeter, as at most higher education institutions, race, ethnicity and income used to be reliable predictors of which students would graduate. The year before the merger, White students were two-and-a-half times more likely to earn a degree than African- Americans. No longer — Black, Latino and Pell grant recipients are at least as likely to graduate as the overall student body.

This is not a “miracle in Atlanta” story, but a demonstration that the smart use of evidence-tested practices will make an outsized difference in graduation rates. Georgia State took the strategies that have worked well at the university and adapted them to the community college setting.

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