Georgia colleges and universities have been asked to do more — a quarter of a million more.
A directive from Gov. Nathan Deal for an additional 250,000 graduates by 2020 is a campus-level movement of Complete College Georgia, an initiative designed to increase the educated workforce in the state to combat changing economic times.
According to the Governor's Office of Student Achievement, by the year 2020, "more than 60 percent of the jobs in Georgia will require a career certificate or college degree." It says only 42 percent of young adults in Georgia currently have a college education, including either a career certificate, associate, bachelor's or higher degree.
Ed Schrader, Brenau University's president and board member of the state chamber of commerce, said the push for more college graduates in the state is essential not only the for system, but also for the state's economy.
"What we talk about all the time (at the chamber of commerce) is equipping a workforce for the 21st century," he said. "I think (the initiative) is a wonderful goal. I am really happy that the governor's agenda has been to push economic development at the very real level of higher education."
Schrader said Brenau already has set in place a plan to achieve that goal. The school currently has about 2,800 students enrolled but plans to raise that number to 5,000, including graduate students.
"I think we're already on course to complete what the governor wants to do," he said.
Raising Georgia's gradation numbers, he added, will raise the tax base in the state without raising taxes — upward of $10,000 per college graduate.
The initiative encompasses all private, public and technical schools in the state, not limiting the graduates to only four-year degrees, but certificates and associate degrees as well.
Dozens of schools plan to meet March 19-20 for a summit to discuss and implement specific plans to meet the goals.
"(The summit) will give the (university) system a chance to have each institution within the system, including us, to come up with our plan," said Al Panu, vice president for academic affairs at Gainesville State College. "We will have clearer goals and objectives coming out of that summit."
Gainesville State will work closely with North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega to implement their goals as they work toward consolidating into one regional institution.
"Rather than putting forth two separate plans, the idea is that we will work together and come up with one plan," said Kate Maine, director of public relations for North Georgia.
Maine said North Georgia has a strong graduation rate and Gainesville State has an "excellent program" that transfers a number of students to Dahlonega.
"We will be looking at ways to further strengthen that pipeline and make it easier for those who start at Gainesville State to earn a four-year degree," she said.
The biggest thing the three schools mirrored was the need for a strong collaboration between institutions and an emphasis on preparing college-bound students for higher learning.
"The key is prepared students," Maine said. "I think that's something the state as a whole is struggling with — making sure that graduates from high school are prepared for the rigors of a college education."
A part of that preparation rests on the partnership between local colleges and high schools.
Dual enrollment programs give high school students an inside look at college classes and are taken on campuses like Gainesville State.
"It is really important that our high school kids are really involved in those dual-enrollment programs," said Kay Holleman, head of college counseling and guidance for Gainesville High School.
Both traditional colleges and technical colleges in the area offer the dual-enrollment program.
"Engaging Hall County students in rigorous and relevant learning is of primary importance to our system," said Terry Sapp with the Hall County School System. "The intended outcome, of course, is to prepare students for success at the post-secondary level, whether at a four-year college or university, a two-year college, or a technical school.
"Hall County students have a variety of opportunities to accelerate their high school education into the post-secondary setting. These opportunities include advance placement courses, international baccalaureate courses, ACCEL, dual-enrollment, Move on When Ready, etc."
There are 74 Hall County students now enrolled on local college campuses.
According to Brenda Perry, an ACCEL coordinator at Gainesville State, there more than 130 students from 15 area high schools participate in their program.
"The students can get a jump-start on their college credits while they're still in high school, so it's a big plus for them," she said. "It helps them make an easier transition because they get a little more exposure than other high school students."
Georgia is a member of the Complete College America Alliance, a group of 30 states committed to boosting the number of college graduates nationwide. Georgia received a $1 million grant from the group last August.
"It's going to be something bigger than just a single state, but we certainly want to do our share and lead the way," Panu said.