By Maria Saporta
If Georgia State University were human, it probably would identify with Rodney Dangerfield.
For those younger than 30, Dangerfield was the comedian (1921-2004) who coined the catchphrase: “I don’t get no respect!”
But it may be time for Georgia State to be viewed as being in the same league as the much more revered University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.
GSU President Mark Becker was the keynote speaker at the Rotary Club of Atlanta Monday tracing the university’s roots back 100 years to 1913 when it was the Evening College of Commerce with 48 white men as students.
Times have changed.
“We are one of the most diverse universities in the United States,” Becker said.
Consider this, of its 24,864 undergraduate students, 41 percent are African-Americans (10,231). Georgia State now awards more bachelor degrees to African-Americans than any other non-profit university in the nation, according to the annual rankings in Diverse Issues in Higher Education. (For the record, the private University of Phoenix has a higher number).
But GSU’s diversity doesn’t stop there. About 12 percent (2,961) of the students are Asian; and about 9 percent (2,214) are Hispanic. These are all new records for Georgia State. By the way, GSU ranks in the top 50 of awarding degrees to Asian students and in the top 100 of awarding degrees to Hispanic-Latino students.
Georgia State also is reaching students who may have had a hard time going to college and graduating.
The university is ranking as having among the highest rates of students with Pell grants in the nation, according to the U.S. News and World Report. About 56 percent of its undergraduates are on Pell grants. Typically, Pell families have annual household incomes of $30,000 or less. The average annual family household income for Pell students is $20,000.
And about a third of GSU student identify themselves as first generation college students, meaning that they actually are change agents in their families.
Rotarians learned Monday that President Becker and his brother actually were first generation college students, and the first in their family to graduate from college.
Several other improvements also are underway at the most urban university in Georgia. Graduation rates are on the rise. The number of applications has increased as has enrollment. Fundraising is up 70 percent since last year, Becker said.
Also GSU’s sponsored research has gone from $55 million in 2011, to $66.5 million in 2012 to $71 million in 2013.
Becker also said GSU has developed a 10-year master plan to accommodate all this growth.
The big news unveiled last week was that the retrofitted parking garage — Kell Hall — would be demolished and turned into green space to open up the campus with an interior green mall that would connect one end of campus with Woodruff Park.
“We are proposing greening up the campus,” Becker said. “We are too dense; there’s too much concrete.”
Georgia State also is building a new College of Law, moving into three major downtown buildings that it has acquired — the Atlanta Life headquarters that will now be known as Centennial Hall; the former Trust Company tower overlooking Woodruff Park — now being called 25 Park Place; and 55 Park Place — a 500,000 square foot building that will house the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies and the administration of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business.
So as Georgia State continues to systematically expand its campus downtown and serve as a model for diversity in higher education, it almost ignores the fact that it is in the shadow of higher-profile state universities.
Maybe it knows that one day it will get its due.