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Atlanta Chamber study gives metro area good grade in higher education

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on November 8, 2013

Metro Atlanta has 66 institutions of higher learning teaching a total of 277,831 undergraduate and graduate students — undeniably a strong enough concentration to qualify the region as a college town.

Those are the results of a new study that will be released Nov. 8 by the Metro Atlanta Chamber titled “Metro Atlanta’s Future: Educate. Innovate. Collaborate.”

The study, conducted by Human Capital Research Corp., compared the Atlanta region’s higher educational profile to those in the nation’s top 100 metro areas.

By almost any measure, metro Atlanta ranked well. But despite its high rankings, officials from the Metro Atlanta Chamber acknowledge the region is still not viewed as a center for higher education.

“We not only have to market externally, we have to market internally,” said Katie Kirkpatrick, the Chamber’s senior vice president who heads its Business-Higher Ed Council. “There’s progress and there’s potential. Over the last 30 years, we have really grown this community with higher educational institutions as our foundation.”

Kirkpatrick said metro Atlanta has shown strong growth in engineering, innovation, technology and entrepreneurship — all areas that bode well for the state’s economy going forward.

“When I look at the data, it’s compelling,” she said. “It’s the talent we need to drive our economy, and that excites me. I want Atlanta to be not only a college town, but a college town that works well with business. That’s the kind of success that I’m interested in.”

Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson applauded the Metro Atlanta Chamber for recognizing the significance of universities and colleges to the region’s overall economy and understanding how they contribute to the region’s ability to offer an innovative workforce. The new study also showed that metro Atlanta has momentum.

“What’s most impressive is not the raw numbers, it’s the change,” Peterson said. “When you look at the gains that Atlanta has made in many of those metrics, it is probably more impressive than the raw numbers themselves.”

A few examples:

The Atlanta region ranked fifth in the amount of research and development expenditures in 2011, the most recent year available, with $1.49 billion. That was a 46 percent increase compared with the $1 billion it had five years ago.

Metro Atlanta also was tied for third in the number of engineering and engineering technologies bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2011.Ranking first was Los Angeles followed by New York. Atlanta and Boston were tied for third.

Incidentally, Georgia Tech is No. 1 in the nation in engineering degrees awarded to all minority students; No. 1 for engineering degrees awarded to women; and No. 1 for graduate engineering degrees awarded to Hispanics. Metro Atlanta also ranks No. 1 in the growth in enrollment of African-American students. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of African-Americans enrolled in metro Atlanta institutions grew by 23,612 — nearly 10,000 more than Atlanta’s nearest competition of New York.

In all, metro Atlanta ranks No. 2 in the United States for total African-American full-time enrollment with 65,933 in the fall of 2010. Only New York City had more African-American students.

“Metro Atlanta is in an incredibly strong position in higher education,” said John Brock, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., who is chairing the Business-Higher Ed Council. “We are in the top 10 in almost every category.”

In total number of college students enrolled, metro Atlanta ranked No. 8 with 277,831 students — placing it ahead of Dallas, San Francisco and Houston. It also was No. 7 for total degrees awarded in 2011 at 42,126; and it was No. 7 for total undergrad enrollment with 228,155 students.

The region ranks sixth in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to international students. Atlanta is also in the move in that area. It ranks third in the nation in the growth of bachelor’s degrees awarded to international students.

Interestingly enough, metro Atlanta ranks first in enrolling students who are 35 and older; and second for students who are 25 and older. Apparently metro Atlanta residents view higher education as part of lifelong learning.

Carlton Brown, president of Clark Atlanta University, said metro Atlanta and Georgia have not yet fully seized the opportunity of being a center of higher education in the Southeast. If metro Atlanta’s institutions could spread their expertise throughout the state, it could double their impact on Georgia’s economy, he said. Also,the region needs to embrace all 66 of its institutions of higher learning.

“The conversation always centers on Georgia Tech, Emory and Georgia State University,” Brown said. “We have to put the rest of us in the same mix. We need to get everybody to be part of the conversation.”

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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