How close are Georgia State students to reaching the American Dream?

From rags to riches, the American Dream remains integral in politics, national economics and personal aspirations. Though, every citizen is not on an equal playing field to achieving their goals.

Disadvantages and privileges hindering some from reaching their full potential while helping others’ chances to meet their targets have been a part of American society since the nation’s creation.

Economic advantages and access to resources correlate strongly with racialized gaps in America, and the education system is not detached from this trend. 

The Aspen Institute, a nonprofit think tank, defines institutional racism as “policies and practices within and across institutions that, intentionally or not, produce outcomes that chronically favor, or put a racial group at a disadvantage.”

When investigating the institution of education in the U.S., standardized testing is an essential area of focus, with SAT and ACT scores leading areas of determining college acceptance. The scores also reflect a pronounced racial disparity. 

Although more racial minority students took the SAT in 2019 than the year previous, “underrepresented groups were less successful,” according to Inside Higher Ed, a media outlet focused on education in America. The individuals included “African American, Latino and [Native] American students.”

According to the College Board, the company responsible for administering the SAT test, white students averaged total scores of 1114, 136 points higher than those of Hispanic/Latino descent and 181 points higher than African American students.

In Georgia, SAT scores are highest at Northview High School, Johns Creek High School and Walton High School. Average scores at these institutions reach 1810. Northview has 16.5% African American and Latino students, Johns Creek 16.3% and Walton 11.7%

Lithonia High School is composed of 97.5% African American and Latino students averaging 1201 on the SAT, 609 points lower than the schools above. North Clayton High school in College Park and Carver High School in Muscogee County also have lower scores by staggered amounts and higher averages of minority students, and these trends follow most schools in the state.

Students at lower testing schools do not have access to the same quality of education or expensive test preparation as those at the higher testing schools, resulting in a racial and economic gap in academic opportunity.

The Georgia State Honors College automatically accepts the top 5-7% of students applying to Georgia State as first-years, whose average SAT scores fall in the range of 1360-1470 in 2019. ACT scores of accepted students in 2019 ranged between 29-32, and high school grade point averages fell between 3.82-4.0 of those accepted. 

Given these statistics, as well as the scores mentioned above, it can be surmised that the Honors College accepts those into the program who, for the most part, attended schools with fewer minority students. This reinforces racial disparities within the Honors College at Georgia State.

According to Georgia State’s website and U.S. News and World Report, the school is the 10th most ethnically diverse university in the U.S..”

Although the racial makeup of the university as a whole is released to the public, that of the Honors College is not. 

Belonging to the Honors College at Georgia State, students have access to opportunities that most students do not have, such as having early access to course registration, which improves their chances of attaining the credits that they need for graduation before other students. Students at the Honors College also have access to another academic advisor on top of the one available to them through their major. 

Those in the Honors College also have access to printing for 1 cent per page as opposed to 5 cents per page in the Georgia State University Library along with access to a computer lab. 

Honors College students can take classes with fewer students, gain access to “specialized internship programs” and have access to on-campus housing at The Commons Student Residency. 

Students at the Honors College, usually coming from more affluent backgrounds, can exercise privileges that set them apart from other students on Georgia State’s campus. Graduating from the Honors College after completing Honors College requirements will also result in a standout degree that improves their employment prospects. 

These benefits granted to students in the Honors College will advance them towards their goals of the American Dream easier than those who do not have the same privileges. 

If they did not get immediate acceptance into the Honors College upon applying to Georgia State as first-year students, they can still try for later admission into the Honors College. 

After one year at Georgia State, students with GPAs higher than 3.5 can be considered for the Honors College. They must also complete an application that is “highly competitive,” according to the Georgia State Honors College website

Because those who got into the Honors College as first-year students did so with their grades and test scores, this secondary competitive application places another barrier on students who did not test as well as others, primarily students of color.

This does not fail to interfere with the institution of education once again.

As this trend of privilege for some and disadvantages for others continue beyond college and into the workforce, Georgia State also sees layers of institutionalized racism in the racial makeup of its faculty and staff.

Last October, The Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote that “although 75% of [Georgia State] students are nonwhite, about 32% of faculty are nonwhite.”

In response to these statistics, the provost of Georgia State, Wendy Hensel, mentioned the need to hire more faculty who are of racial minorities as well as more individuals who identify as “LGBTQ or have a disability.” 

In the conversation on racial diversity, one must also consider the location of Georgia State. Centered in the heart of downtown Atlanta, Georgia State has an undeniable presence on the current and future landscape of the city.

According to 11Alive, “Atlanta is rapidly gentrifying.” A government map of Atlanta portraying the stages of gentrification shows the downtown region at a point of “high pressure.” 

Defined by Merriam-webster dictionary, gentrification is “the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) accompanied by the influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.”

As more construction occurs in Atlanta, property values rise. 

Good for the displacement of crime away from the city according to “broken window theory,” the criminal justice term that suggests that areas that are neat ward off crime whereas areas that are not as well kept attract crime, gentrification also leads to the displacement of underprivileged populations, historically those who are racial minorities.

As more middle-class individuals come into the city, the culture of Atlanta is changing in many more ways than one. Georgia State’s creation and continuation has circulated revenue into the city of Atlanta and assisted in the depreciation of dangerous areas, but the school’s expansion has also contributed to the erasure of historical Atlanta. 

One mile in distance from the birth home of Martin Luther King Jr., Georgia State sits on land pivotal to determining the cultural, societal and racial future of Atlanta.