Georgia State Reinvents Itself as an Engine of Social Mobility
COLLEGE PARK, Ga. — Shantil Jones’s Volkswagen Jetta sat marooned in the driveway of the little townhouse she shares with her mother in College Park, a mostly black suburb just south of Atlanta. The front end had been badly crumpled in an accident, and Ms. Jones did not have the money to fix it.
Her car wasn’t going anywhere. But she was.
Ms. Jones, 24, put on a cap, gown and high heels on Wednesday afternoon and walked past the hobbled Jetta on her way to graduate from Georgia State University. Her sister would be giving her a ride to the ceremony.
For decades, Georgia State was downtown Atlanta’s rather unremarkable commuter school, founded “as a night school for white businessmen,” as the college’s spokeswoman, Andrea Jones, says, and kept racially segregated until the 1960s.
But the college has been reimagined — amid a moral awakening and a raft of data-driven experimentation — as one of the South’s more innovative engines of social mobility.
By focusing on retaining low-income students, rather than just enrolling them, the college raised its graduation rate to 54 percent in 2017 from 32 percent in 2003. And for the last five years, it has awarded more bachelor’s degrees to African-Americans like Ms. Jones than any other nonprofit college or university in the country.
That record is a bright spot for a state that ranks among the 10 worst for graduating black males from high school, according to a 2015 report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education. It has also changed the educational landscape in Atlanta, home to some of the nation’s most renowned historically black colleges. They came into being because the State of Georgia used to reject or neglect black students seeking a college degree. But now a state-funded college is serving as an inspiration for them.
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