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Posts tagged ‘University System of Georgia’

Kemp’s “rural strike team” should be a step in the right direction. We’ll see.

First, props where they’re deserved.  Georgia Governor Brian Kemp actually took a step in the right direction Monday when he told the AJC he’s creating a “rural strike team” to try to stimulate economic development in the state’s dying hinterlands.  He reportedly plans to unveil the details in Swainsboro on Thursday.

Only time will tell whether this is anything more than eyewash and window dressing, but there were a couple of promising hints in the AJC’s story.  One was that he’s bringing together “a half-dozen state departments and higher education agencies” to drive the effort.  That implies a more strategic approach and focus than I’ve seen so far, and one that’s long overdue.  Still, the strike force will have its work cut out for it.

The state of Georgia is quite literally in the process of tearing itself apart along rural and urban lines, and especially between Metro Atlanta and just about everything else from Macon south.  These are not slow-moving trends.  No matter how you come at it – economically, educationally, health-wise, politically – you can pretty much watch the division in real-time.

Take education as an example.  In 1970, according to Census Bureau data, there were fewer than a quarter of a million college graduates in the entire state of Georgia, and slightly more than half of them lived outside Trouble in God’s Country’s 12-county Metro Atlanta region.  Today, the state is home to nearly two million college graduates and 63 percent of them live in Metro Atlanta.

That disparity is only going to grow.  Up until 2011, the 147 counties outside Metro Atlanta sent more freshmen to University System of Georgia (USG) institutions than the 12 Metro Atlanta counties, which is probably what you’d expect.  But in 2011 Metro Atlanta overtook the rest of the state and ever since then it’s been sending significantly more freshmen to USG colleges and universities than the rest of the state combined (see graph at right).

At the state’s two flagship universities, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, the gulf is bigger yet.  At Georgia Tech, 75.5 percent of the Fall 2018 in-state freshmen came from Metro Atlanta; at UGA, just over 63 percent of the in-state freshmen came from Metro Atlanta.  By my count, 71 counties, all rural, didn’t send a single high school graduate to Tech in the fall of 2018; at UGA, the same was true of 22 counties.

These differences matter.  Not only do they fuel Metro Atlanta’s outsized economic growth, they drive widening disparities in taxes paid and social services consumed.  With just under half the state’s population, Metro Atlanta in 2016 coughed up nearly two-thirds of the state’s federal taxes while consuming, as examples, about 37 percent of the state’s Medicaid services and about 41 percent of its food stamp benefits.

You can do the math on the other side of that equation.  Oh, okay, I’ll help: the 99 counties that constitute Trouble in God’s Country’s Middle and South Georgia regions don’t even come close to covering their own Medicaid and food stamp costs, let alone anything else.  After a while these kinds of numbers get to be politically untenable.

Some years back, I presented a very early version of my Trouble in God’s Country research to a group made up primarily of legislators.  One of those was House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Mickey Channell, who has since passed away.  “What do you do about it?” he asked.  I didn’t know then and still don’t, at least not entirely.  But I’ve since given it a lot of thought and would offer the following as a running start at an answer:

  • First, the multi-agency approach suggested by Kemp is the right idea — and critical. The state of Georgia arguably has one of the strongest and most sophisticated economic development infrastructures in the nation, but my sense is that its work has been largely siloed and not well integrated with other departments and agencies of state government.  The state’s urban-rural divide and the deterioration in much of rural Georgia constitutes a truly strategic problem.  It’s not an exaggeration to call it an all-hands-on-deck crisis.  In addition to the departments of Economic Development and Community Affairs, the team will have to include high-level engagement from throughout the state’s education bureaucracies and, I’d argue, public health and human services.
  • Start with a realistic evaluation of the state’s various rural areas and recognize that some are more viable than others. Some politicians like to say they want to run government like a business.  In business, if you’re losing money year after year, sooner or later you call it quits.  Under that theory, I can take the governor to 50 or so counties where he ought to turn out the lights and call it a day.  We can’t do that, of course, but it ought to be possible to invest discretionary tax dollars and other public resources in areas that at least have a fighting chance of generating a return, in terms of new growth and economic prosperity.  In other words, resist the normal political temptation to attack the worst problems first; instead, identify the regions that still have a pulse and see if they can be saved.
  • Shore up the regional hub cities first. It’s not just Georgia’s purely rural areas that are in serious decline; a lot of the major regional cities – Macon, Columbus, Augusta, etc. – are suffering various types of distress, and they are vital to rural areas around them.  As a practical matter, it may be too late to do much good for Albany and the rural counties between it and the Alabama line; that entire region of the state is bleeding population and shrinking economically to a degree that may put it beyond near-term salvation.  Figuring out how to strengthen other major hubs in ways that will enable them to better support their rural neighbors should be pretty close to the top of the to-do list for Kemp’s strike force.
  • Challenge the rural areas to compete for the state’s attention and dollars. Hopefully, one of the initiatives that will come out of Kemp’s effort will be a process by which multi-county regions or areas of the state can apply to the state for funding and technical support.  It shouldn’t be entirely on Kemp’s strike force to show up in Enigma, Ga., and say, “We’re from state government and we’re here to help you.”  Rural areas should be required to come forward with a rational vision, demonstrate that they have the leadership capacity to drive a major effort, and put serious skin in the game.  There should be milestones in that process and a credible system for evaluating progress.
  • Bite the political bullet and implement Medicaid Expansion. I should have listed this first but figured Republicans would stop reading right then and there.  Refusing to take advantage of Medicaid Expansion was the major failure of Nathan Deal’s administration and Kemp shows little inclination to do any better.  His attempt at a “waiver” approach (an all but transparent effort to deny Barack Obama any credit for the program) apparently can’t even pass muster in Donald Trump’s Washington.  Meanwhile, rural hospitals continue to close and people continue to die, prematurely and unnecessarily.  Even if Deal, Kemp & Co. are blind to the health benefits of Medicaid Expansion, you’d think they’d see the economic benefits of pumping billions of dollars into rural Georgia.  Maybe all things Obamacare still constitute a third rail of politics for Georgia Republicans, but my hunch is that the radioactivity levels tied to Medicaid Expansion have diminished to a point that it could be a political winner for Kemp – a Nixon-to-China sort of moment.

Again, I don’t know whether Kemp’s ”rural strike force” will prove to be anything more than eyewash and window dressing, but it’s encouraging that he’s taking a stab at the problem.  Hope springs eternal.

(c) Trouble in God’s Country 2019

 

A Data Mash-Up: University System of Georgia vs. Georgia Department of Corrections. It’s not pretty.

Spend much time sifting through reams of data about Georgia counties and sooner or later you’ll stumble across an interesting factoid you weren’t even looking for.

Here’s one example: Georgia convicts more people of crimes than it sends to college.

Maybe that’s not surprising, but it still seems a little troubling, and it may be one reasonable indicator of the overall social health of a community.

I was pursuing two different lines of research – one with University System data and the other with Department of Corrections statistics – when I noticed the contrast.

Ten years ago, in 2006, 36,202 Georgians matriculated as freshmen at one of the state’s colleges or universities, according to University System of Georgia data.  That same year, a total of 66,255 were either convicted or pled guilty to crimes, according to Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC) data.  This group included 44,762 who were placed on probation and another 21,493 who were sent to prison.  That works out to 1.83 convicts for every college freshman.

Ten years later, by 2015, that ratio had improved.  The number of college freshmen was up to 42,908 and the number of total convicts was down to 59,111, giving us about 1.38 new people entering the corrections system for every new college freshman.

That improvement was not, however, spread evenly across the state.  In 2006, all five of our Trouble in God’s Country regions – Metro Atlanta, Coastal Georgia, Middle Georgia, North Georgia and South Georgia – were cranking out more convicts than college freshmen.

By 2015, Metro Atlanta had turned that around and was producing a few more college freshmen than total convicts – 22,903 college freshmen to 22,042 convicts.  The other four regions still had negative college freshmen-to-convict ratios.

The key driver in that change has been a gradual but steady shift in where Georgia’s college freshmen come from.

What might be called a “regional share of criminals” went largely unchanged between 2006 and 2015.  Every single region finished the 10-year stretch within a single percentage point of where it started.  Metro Atlanta’s share of new convicts was exactly the same in 2015 as it had been in 2006 – 37.3 percent.  Coastal Georgia and Middle Georgia saw their shares drop by a fraction of a point, while North Georgia and South Georgia each eked up by less than a point.

But the distribution of college freshmen did change significantly.  In 2006, 46.2 percent of Georgians enrolling at the state’s colleges and universities came from our 12-county Metro Atlanta region; by 2015, that number was up to 53.4 percent.  All four other regions saw their share of college freshmen decline at least slightly, with our 56-county South Georgia region taking the biggest hit; it was down from 14.1 percent of college freshmen in 2006 to 10.6 percent in 2015.

I mentioned above that the state’s convict population falls into two categories – those who are placed on probation (presumably for lesser crimes and/or plea deals) and those who actually go to prison.  Because that overall convict population is larger than the number of college freshmen we produce each year, it follows that most individual counties would fit that profile, and that is indeed the case.  Of Georgia’s 159 counties, 141 produced more criminals than college freshmen in 2015.

Of those, 22 actually sent more people to prison than to college.  That list of counties earning that dubious distinction is as follows:

 

Region County 2015 College Freshmen 2015 Prison Admits
Middle Baldwin 83 85
South Ben Hill 51 94
North Chattooga 47 118
South Clay 5 9
North Elbert 45 59
North Floyd 334 420
North Franklin 40 61
North Greene 40 46
North Hart 44 70
Middle Jones 69 82
South Lanier 5 16
North Madison 59 63
Middle Meriwether 65 72
Middle Richmond 531 558
Middle Spalding 185 212
North Stephens 50 71
North Taliaferro 3 6
North Towns 16 18
Middle Treutlen 26 27
Middle Troup 206 267
Middle Twiggs 19 20
North Walker 134 173

At the other end of the spectrum, 16 counties produced more college freshmen than total convicts (prison admits and probationers combined).  Here’s that honor roll:

Region County 2015 College Freshmen 2015 Criminal Convicts (Prison Admits & Probationers)
Coastal Bryan 239 96
Coastal Camden 241 188
Atlanta Cherokee 1,117 920
Middle Columbia 764 588
Coastal Effingham 306 229
Atlanta Fayette 784 471
Atlanta Forsyth 1,268 548
Middle Glascock 12 8
Atlanta Gwinnett 5,664 3679
Atlanta Henry 1,362 935
South Lee 216 111
North Oconee 305 65
Atlanta Paulding 587 346
Middle Pike 106 20
South Schley 38 25
South Turner 45 40

Probably the strongest performer in this category is fast-growing Forsyth County, which also posts some of the state’s strongest economic, educational and public health numbers.  Even a decade ago, in 2006, Forsyth County was already sending more people to college than into the criminal justice system, and it’s widened the gap considerably in the 10 years since then, as this chart shows.

Forsyth County Chart

In 2006, Forsyth sent 150 more people to college than into the criminal justice system; by 2015, it was sending more than two people to college for each one it convicted of a crime.

Just about the entire Metro Atlanta region performed well in this area, however.  Of the 12 counties in our Metro Atlanta region, all but one saw its ratio of college freshmen-to-convicts improve over the 10-year period.  The exception was Fayette County.  It still finished on the honor roll (above) of counties sending more people to college than into the criminal justice system, but nonetheless finished the 10-year period with slightly poorer numbers.

Copyright (c) 2016 Trouble in God’s Country