Potts, district representative to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, said a hefty educational challenge Georgia is facing is how to increase the graduation completion rate.
“We must increase the number of graduates out of our institutions,” Potts said. “Over the next six years, it’s estimated that 60 percent of the jobs out there will require some form of certification. Whether it be a one-year degree plan from one of our outstanding technical colleges all the way up to a Ph-D.”
Potts said that currently, 42 percent of Georgians have such certifications. Additionally, he said the U.S. ranks 15th among the top 23 industrialized nations of the world where college completion is concerned.
Referencing an “ambitious” initiative called Complete College Georgia — an extension of the countrywide initiative Complete College America — Potts said the campaign seeks to churn out 250,000 more college graduates by 2020. The key to achieving this, Potts said, is maintaining access, graduation quality and affordability.
Potts said there are 1.3 million Georgians out there who have some college under their belts, but no college degree.
“We’ve got to restructure higher education delivery to be able to give those the opportunity to come back and complete what they’ve started,” he said, adding that a major component of that incompletion is the cost of tuition.
“The cost of college affects college completion significantly,” Potts said. “We are a low tuition state, and yet the cost of tuition continues to climb and it’s a great concern in Georgia; it’s a great concern everywhere.”
The decline of funding for higher education, he said, is a national issue. But one way to remedy the low college graduation rate is to expand the quality and consistency of online learning.
“We have to get past our own arrogance and be willing to do things that will provide education to them. We have to make college fit into the student’s life instead of the other way around,” he said.
Potts said if he were “King of the World,” he would like to see the HOPE Scholarship only awarded to students who financially fall into the need-based category, though politically, that will never happen. Following his speech, Rome City School Superintendent Gayland Cooper said he shared Potts’ sentiments on the issue.
“He’s very insightful on the Hope Scholarship,” Cooper said. “Initially that was a need-basis … and I’m absolutely in agreement. I think it needs to get back to a need-basis to allow those kids who really need help to get into school and to further their career.”
Rob Page, dean of social sciences, business and education at Georgia Highlands College, said the school is quickly adapting its classes to cater to non-traditional students, such as students who are also parents with full-time jobs.
“It is not about the institution, it is about the student,” Potts said. “And finally, as a state, we are beginning to understand that.”