Panther Status: Denied

Former Georgia Perimeter College has finally merged with Georgia State University. Photo by Justin Clay | The Signal

Former Georgia Perimeter College has finally merged with Georgia State University.  Photo by Justin Clay | The Signal
Former Georgia Perimeter College has finally merged with Georgia State University.
Photo by Justin Clay | The Signal
Broken promises left some former Georgia Perimeter College (GPC) athletes without an athletics program or an education. A letter from then-Interim President Rob Watts promising to pay tuition, books and fees for student athletes was never honored after the Georgia State-GPC consolidation.

Last January, news of the GSU-GPC consolidation reached Perimeter’s campuses. The college’s athletics programs were suspended and eventually shut down at the end of the Spring 2015 semester.

Days later, on Jan. 14, student athletes received a letter signed by Watts offering to cover school expenses “for any freshman athlete who wishes to return during the 2015-2016 academic year.”


When it came time to register for classes, many students were told they were ineligible to receive the benefits promised in Watts’ letter. These students ended up transferring, paying out of pocket or dropping out.

Watts has since retired and GPC’s office of marketing and communications was unable to provide his contact information.

Peter Lyons, current Vice Provost and Dean of Perimeter College, said the students were taken care of prior to the consolidation.

“Students who have contacted us have all had arrangements made before the consolidation happened,” Lyons said. “Some students were not able to avail themselves of the offer immediately, but for confidentiality purposes I cannot reveal which students those were specifically.”

However, many students remained ineligible for the letter’s benefits including Rafael DeJesus, a former GPC student and men’s soccer player.

“I was relieved when I first got the letter because they promised to pay for both fall and spring semesters,” he told The Signal. “But now I’m stuck here and there’s no way for me to go back to school.”

After finishing his freshman year, DeJesus took classes during the summer 2015 term. Those classes were paid for with leftover money from the then disassembled Perimeter soccer team’s budget. Former head coach, Marc Zagara, said the team’s funds regularly pay for his players’ summer semesters for recruitment purposes. Perimeter had paid for DeJesus’ fall semester.


Just before the spring 2016 semester, DeJesus received an email from Perimeter’s former athletic director, Alfred Barney, saying his two semesters had already been covered because he took summer classes.

DeJesus said he was then dropped from his courses for “non-payment.”

Barney did not respond to The Signal’s requests for information. And as of last week, his position as athletic director has been terminated.

Some of DeJesus’ teammates also thought their classes were paid for by the college until a couple days before classes began when they realized they were at risk of being dropped for non-payment as well, according to DeJesus.

“We had to keep calling the registration office and fight to get this taken care of,” DeJesus said. “A lot of times they wouldn’t answer or help us. It was like they were hoping we wouldn’t call.”

Zagara said he was upset that paying for his ex-players’ summer classes had backfired on them.

“I took care of a half dozen of my players’ summer school. It was a normal function of an athletic budget,” Zagara said. “And now that’s going against them.”

When Zagara and some of his former players complained about this, Barney told them the letter only applied to scholarship athletes so the walk-ons were ineligible. However, Watts’ letter was given to all student athletes and does not mention a scholarship-only exclusion.

Zagara and DeJesus hired Attorney Andrew Conway to press the issue further. They were then told that other factors prevented DeJesus from enrolling for the spring 2016 semester. Conway was not reached by press time.

An email from Georgia State Attorney Kerry Heyward to Attorney Andrew Conway, said the student’s academic history affects his enrollment and eligibility to receive the letter’s benefits.

“Mr. DeJesus’ ability to enroll for this semester and have his tuition and fees provided is determined by more than just the letter he received from Dr. Watts,” Heyward’s email said. “For example, relevant to our discussion are classes he has taken, withdrawals, GPA, etc.”


Watts’ letter makes no mention of any prerequisites needed to access its benefits and the athletes were not given any additional information about potential requirements.

Georgia State’s legal affairs office was unwilling to speak about the letter, saying it is not involved in the dispute.

“They were digging for excuses,” Zagara claimed. “This is a statement on the character of some of the administrators and bureaucrats wielding power. It’s embarrassing as an institution to behave that way.”

A few students, including DeJesus’ roommate, were able to access the letter’s benefits because they did not attend summer school.

According to Zagara, a majority of his athletes went to Perimeter specifically to play soccer. With no athletic department or tuition benefits, the students had no incentive to stay at the now two-year Georgia State.

“A third of my team were able to get scholarships at other schools and transferred, and some are still in school here,” Zagara said. “About a third of them just disappeared.”

DeJesus was unable to register for this spring term. He is currently not in school and works to pay rent for his apartment.

“If I can come back, I’ll finish here at Perimeter then transfer and be able to play soccer somewhere else,” DeJesus said. “If there’s no way for me to go back, I’ll have to go home after my apartment lease is up.”

The day after The Signal spoke with DeJesus, he received a call instructing him to create a schedule for the upcoming semester and it would be paid for by the college. Zagara said this happened because they got a lawyer involved.

Anel Ramic, one of DeJesus’ former teammates said he and many other ex-soccer players still attend GPC, but pay out of pocket with the help of financial aid.

“I thought the tuition coverage would be a compromise for taking the athletics program,” Ramic said. “I play for an amateur league now and still go to school using financial aid, but it sucks not having my team and not getting tuition taken care of like they promised. Do I need to get a lawyer involved?”