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Regional task force to look at increasing students' readiness for college

High school students work on assignment in a German class during the Foreign Service Language Academy held each summer at the University of North Georgia.

Of 100 public school 9th-graders, only 17 will graduate on time from a two- or four-year college or university, according to data from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. The University of North Georgia, as part of its Complete College Georgia plan, is spearheading a regional task force to ensure students from across northeast Georgia graduate from high school prepared to continue their education and contribute to the region's economy.

The Complete College Georgia initiative was announced by Gov. Nathan Deal as a statewide initiative in the wake of a 2011 study by Georgetown University that found Georgia will need to increase the percentage of its population with some level of college completion from a current 42 percent to 60 percent to meet projected workforce needs. Each of the state’s public colleges and universities have developed individual plans to support the initiative, which include coordination with the state’s technical colleges and other community organizations.

"It is vitally important that our regional education and community leaders work in partnership to identify the needs of our region and the resources necessary to achieve our goals," UNG President Bonita Jacobs said. "The North Georgia Regional Education and Economic Development (REED) Task Force is a collaborative effort to identify educational opportunities for producing a workforce that is responsive to the needs of the region."REED Task Force members include a sampling of college presidents, county and city development authority members, county commissioners, mayors, agency directors and others.

A series of meetings is planned across the region—in Blairsville, Gainesville and Watkinsville—throughout June. REED facilitators want task force members to come with ideas, needs and resources, but don't expect to find a one-size-fits-all solution that will increase college attainment across the region.

"In deciding to have three meetings, what we tried to do is divide them into sort of similar geographic and economic regions," said Dr. Bob Michael, dean of UNG's College of Education. "Each region has its own challenges and some of these communities remain economically distressed, so how do you address their educational needs?"

A starting point for forming the task force is the partnerships UNG has with school systems throughout northeast Georgia, especially the teacher education program in the College of Education that puts professors and student teachers in dozens of K-12 classrooms across the region every day.

"The K-12 superintendents and other educational leaders in the region are really, really good. They're on top of it throughout the area," Michael said. "So we're not going to tell them how to fix their communities, but we want to know how we can help them prepare their students to come to college and have a more successful experience."

The findings and recommendations from the task force meetings will be presented at a REED summit, which is being scheduled for September.

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