It’s Friday the 13th, and Graduation Day at UGA to boot, so you should expect a scary “Unfiltered Friday” blog from me that relates CCSD to UGA. Here it is:
As I talk to people around the district, and as I ponder my own classes at UGA, questions arise:
- Why does it seem like all the UGA students are from the Atlanta area?
- Didn’t more local students used to go to UGA?
- Why is the UGA student body so white?
- Why are there so few teachers of color in CCSD?
These questions are all tied together. Many CCSD teachers come out of UGA. The whiter UGA is, the whiter that teaching pool is. The Clarke County schools contain a whole lot more diversity than many suburban Atlanta schools. But it seems like for every one CCSD student in my classes, there are dozens from suburban Atlanta. So, let’s start with UGA enrollment data.
As a scientist and as a descendant of journalists, I approach these questions from the perspective of, “Let’s get some data and look at it.” But not in the bureaucratic, obfuscatory way of “Let’s drown you in numbers and charts until you quit asking questions.” No, I mean, let’s crunch the data and see if we the people can figure out what’s going on. Then maybe we can do something about it.
So Wednesday night I stayed up until 4 am slowly gathering together data from the UGA Fact Books, the official source of data on UGA (most other public universities publish equivalent documents). The Fact Books are located at http://www.oir.uga.edu/fact_book and if you are as dogged as I am, you can replicate my analysis.
The data I gathered from the Fact Books were “Georgia High Schools of Entering Freshmen” for the fall term, going all the way from 2015 backward to 1985, UGA’s bicentennial year. 1985 was long before HOPE, before UGA went to a semester system, Vince Dooley was still the Bulldogs’ football coach and Herschel Walker won the USFL rushing title that year! In climate research, 30-year periods (ok, 31 years in this case) are often examined because it’s long enough to get a feel for trends and allows you to overlook one-year blips. You get a sense of the broad sweep of history.
And the history of CCSD at UGA was a fine one in 1985. In that year, Cedar Shoals High School in District 8 was the 4th-highest feeder school for UGA in the entire state, with a whopping 60 Jaguar seniors enrolling in UGA that fall. Clarke Central wasn’t far behind, the 10th -best feeder school in the state for UGA, with 48 Gladiator graduates enrolling in UGA that same fall. Overall, 1 out of every 31 UGA freshman in the fall of 1985 was from CCSD. This continued through about 1991–Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central were both top-10 feeder schools for UGA each and every year from 1985 through 1991.
But during the 1990s things changed. CSHS and CCHS became only top-20-ish feeder schools during that decade, no longer up there with the Waltons, Brookwoods and Lassiters who have been consistently near the top for the entire period of 1985 through 2015. Those schools have been viewed by UGA admissions as consistently excellent. But our CCSD schools started falling off that list, it seems, starting in the 1990s and muddling along through the 2000s.
But the past five years have been the hardest for CCSD in terms of getting graduates into UGA’s fall classes. Clarke Central has ranked no higher than 30th among UGA feeder schools from 2011 through 2015. Cedar Shoals has fallen at times completely off the lists. In 2015, both Cedar and Clarke Central tied for 62nd on the list of UGA feeder schools, providing just 19 graduates apiece to UGA’s freshman class in Fall 2015.
Remember how, in 1985, 1 out of every 31 UGA freshmen in the fall class was from CCSD? In 2015, 1 out of every 121 UGA fall freshmen was from Cedar Shoals or Clarke Central. That is a huge change in 30 years, especially compared to the near-constancy of the suburban-Atlanta feeder schools pumping 50-100 seniors into UGA every year, year in and year out. And the trend is clear, over a period of 31 years:
CCSD graduates are disappearing from UGA’s fall freshman classes.
Or, to recap the scary statistics in a slightly different way:
- As a percentage of the fall freshman class at UGA, CCSD graduates are down by a factor of 4 since the late 1980s, and down by a factor of 2.5 since the late 1990s
- Even including Oconee County high schools and Athens Academy, Athens-area representation in the fall freshman classes has apparently dropped by roughly a factor of 2 since the mid-2000s.
Them’s the data. As with all scary things, people will rush in trying to explain it–or, more likely, trying to explain it away. Here are some of my questions:
- For example, are these trends because of white/upper-level socioeconomic flight to Oconee County? Not entirely; Oconee County HS was actually the #1 feeder school in the entire state for UGA from 2004 through 2006, but the Oconee schools are not doing so well as feeder schools of late, either. Neither is Athens Academy. It appears to me that all of the Athens-area high schools are supplying fewer and fewer students to UGA, even at the higher socioeconomic levels. But this “access gap” is most obvious with CCSD high schools.
- Or is it because students just don’t want to go to UGA in the fall? There may well be “Athens fatigue” among some populations, but if this is the explanation then we need to understand why it has intensified during the past 30 years, and ratcheted up in the past five years in particular.
- Is it because of increasing competition with richer suburban-Atlanta schools whose students have the ability/coaching/grade inflation to get into UGA preferentially, now that UGA is fixated on ever-rising test scores and ever-rising high-school GPAs (unlike in 1985)?
- Is it because UGA Admissions just doesn’t have a very high opinion of our CCSD schools, despite the number of Foundation Fellows and Ramsey Scholars our local schools produce? If so, is that an unfair perception?
- Is it because UGA Admissions is deferring admission of Athens-area applicants until the spring semester, assuming that they’ll accept anyway and just stick around Athens in the fall and take classes somewhere else? Isn’t that a slap in the face to CCSD seniors?
I think the situation I describe here is known privately in some CCSD and UGA circles, but not discussed publicly. This blog aims to end that silence. Why? Because the data attest to a scenario in which we are headed for a situation in which our own local students, regardless of their education and ability, will be unable to attend the university that sits right here in our city and county. This is nuts. It smacks of Jim Crow, but based on class as well as race. And there are changes on the immediate horizon regarding the HOPE Scholarship that will impact students in the middle–those who are already not getting the best experience from CCSD–and prevent them from ever obtaining HOPE. (More on that another time; it’s too scary for even this blog post.)
Athens-Clarke County should not end up being on the outside looking in at UGA. The University of Georgia badly needs the kind of diversity that CCSD represents, whether or not those fixated on U.S. News rankings realize it. Its lily-white student body (far fewer than 10% of the freshman class is African-American, in a state that is 30% African-American) is just plain wrong; whatever UGA is doing to recruit people of color, it has not worked and it’s time to be more proactive right here in UGA’s backyard while there is still a chance to get CCSD students admitted to UGA! And that last part is just mind-boggling; UGA will strangle itself as a university if even potential faculty members realize that their own kids won’t have a shot at getting into UGA.
If nothing’s done about the increasing access gap the data above describe, what will Athens turn into? As I was concluding a conversation with an expert in university admissions, it hit me: Jamaica. Athens will turn into–is already turning into–a kind of “luxury living” resort destination for the wealthy, for four years at the University instead of a weekend on the beach. And those wealthy will look very different from the locals who eke out an existence from the leavings of the luxury-livers. We’re already there in many ways. Without action, we’ll be all the way there soon.
I think there should be a strong desire to find ways to reverse this trend, now, and to prevent the Arch from being a closed gate to the community around it. As a UGA faculty member and as a candidate for the Clarke County Board of Education, I promise to investigate the problems and push for real solutions, not rhetoric. I might annoy some people, and I might even stay up until 4 am crunching numbers in a spreadsheet! But, as the data here demonstrate, and is true in so many other cases regarding our schools, the status quo is not acceptable.