(an opinion column reprinted from the Gwinnett Daily Post, March 7, 2015)
In the two months since the planned merger between Georgia Perimeter College and Georgia State University was announced, a picture of what the new, consolidated institution might look like has begun to emerge — even if it’s still a bit fuzzy around the edges.
As a professor at GPC, I was originally skeptical of the proposal. But I’m beginning to see that it could definitely benefit students, especially those in the north and east suburbs.
According to GSU president Mark Becker, what’s now GPC will essentially become a division of Georgia State. The Perimeter College unit, as he envisions it, will continue to do what GPC has always done — offer associate degrees and provide a point of access into the University System — while also serving as a kind of outreach arm for GSU’s downtown campus.
Because, let’s face it: High school students in Atlanta’s affluent suburbs haven’t always had Georgia State at the top of their list. Perhaps they think it’s “not as good a school” as UGA or Tech. Maybe they just don’t want to drive or live downtown.
It’s hard to argue with anyone who hates driving in Atlanta. But the idea that GSU isn’t a top-notch school is a misconception, probably based on outdated information. In recent years, GSU has climbed steadily in the national rankings — it’s now rated as “highly selective” — while gaining a reputation as a leader among urban universities.
The merger with GPC means that students in the north and east metro will be able to attend this sixth-ranked “up-and-coming” institution (according to US News and World Report) without having to go downtown, if they choose. Whether all five of GPC’s current locations survive the merger remains to be seen, but I suspect most will. That potentially places thousands of students, from Alpharetta to Covington, within 20 minutes of a GSU campus.
For many students, attending a branch campus could provide financial benefits, as well. Details regarding costs have yet to be fully worked out, but I expect that tuition at the Perimeter locations will continue to be about half of what students pay at GSU’s main campus.
Meanwhile, those who apply to GSU but aren’t accepted into a four-year program will be offered admission at one of the university’s two-year Perimeter campuses, assuming they qualify. From there, if they do well, they can move downtown for their final two years — or, if they prefer, they can transfer to another institution of their choice.
This ought to be a game-changer for Gwinnett high school students, most of whom live within easy driving distance of a GPC campus in Clarkston, Dunwoody, or Alpharetta. They’ll be able to attend one of the state’s top universities, right in their own backyard, for about half the price (at least for the first two years).
Maybe that realization, once it sinks home, will move GSU to the top of some students’ lists.
Rob Jenkins is a professor at Georgia Perimeter College’s Alpharetta Campus and the author of “Building a Career in America’s Community Colleges.” Email him at email@example.com.