Funded by $1,498,134 from the U.S. Department of Education's High School Equivalency Program (HEP), the University of North Georgia (UNG) will launch its own five-year HEP that will enable 50 migrants to attain a high school education free of cost.
Individuals who meet the following criteria will be eligible for the program:
- Engaged in or a dependent of someone engaged in migratory labor for at least 75 days in the past 24 months (migratory labor means the individual does not have a year-round job in one location, and may have a seasonal job)
- Has not earned a high school diploma or an equivalent
- Not currently enrolled in primary school
- At least 16 years old
- Can demonstrate academic and financial need
"There are a number of people in north Georgia who fit these criteria because migratory work is exactly what their family does," said Dr. Harriett Allison, principal investigator of the project and director of UNG's English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. "They may not have been able to finish high school because they had to work to support their family. We want to provide this opportunity to help these individuals gain an education and take that familial support to the next level."
According to Allison, 1,000 potential participants will be informed about the UNG HEP opportunity through outreach to community organizations and migrant communities in agricultural areas of north Georgia. From this pool, 100 who potentially qualify for HEP will be identified and recruited. Half of those 100 will be enrolled in UNG HEP; students with the highest need will receive priority.
"All of our HEP participants will receive an array of academic and other support services to attain a high school equivalency diploma, including instruction in GED subject areas with ESL content when necessary, individualized tutoring, and financial support," Allison said. "They also will be informed and exposed to post-diploma placement options and receive services to assist in either entering a postsecondary education or training program, upgraded employment, or the military after receiving their diploma."
According to a study from within the National Center on Immigration Integration Policy, Georgia experienced a 380 percent increase in migrant population growth between 1990 and 2012, the second fastest growth rate among all U.S. states. In 2014, the Georgia Department of Education reported that the high school graduation rate for migrant students in Georgia was 57 percent, compared to the overall state rate of 73 percent, and that migrant students experienced higher dropout rates in grades 9-12 compared to the state average.
Allison said that, despite compelling needs, only one satellite HEP site exists in north Georgia, limiting the access to HEP services for those in the area who need them most. She added that UNG's Gainesville Campus is strategically positioned to meet these needs because the campus is located in Gainesville, which serves as the agricultural, economic, and population center for migratory workers in north Georgia.
"The HEP program — and similarly, UNG's CAMP and Summer Scholars Institute — clearly demonstrate a commitment to the ideals put forth by the Complete College Georgia Initiative," said Dr. Andy Novobilski, associate provost for research and engagement and chief research officer at UNG. "We are proud to engage with our community in this important program."
This past summer, UNG received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to establish a College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) as part of a federally-funded initiative to increase college attendance and graduation among the nation's migrant youth by providing the support and guidance they need to enroll in and graduate from college.
The Summer Scholars Institute is now in its 27th year at UNG, and continues to offer enrichment programming for rising eighth, ninth and tenth-graders from Gainesville, Hall, Habersham and Jackson school systems.
UNG also hosts Steps to College, a program that provides opportunities for English as a Second Language students from Hall, Forsyth, and Banks counties and Gainesville City school systems to earn high school credit during the summer.