Campus News

Atlanta mayor sounds call to fund higher education for needy students

The democratization of higher education is within Georgia’s reach, but it’s up to residents to decide if it’s beyond their grasp, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said during the 22nd annual Holmes-Hunter Lecture.

Franklin, the first female mayor of Atlanta and the first African-American woman to serve as mayor of a major Southern city, related the plight of students unable to afford college to the trials faced by Charlayne Hunter-Gault and the late Hamilton Holmes, the first black students to enroll at UGA and the people for whom the lecture is named.

“UGA is still beyond the financial means of (many students),” she said. “There are still too many people who are blocked out by virtue of their birth—their birth into a financial condition. That’s not just true here, it’s true everywhere around the country.”

Franklin started the Mayor’s Youth Program (previously called “Next Step. . . The Atlanta Promise”), which provides financial aid to graduates of Atlanta’s public school.

Since 2005, the program has helped more than 900 students. Franklin calculated that it would take $25 million to $30 million per year to send every child from Atlanta to college, but said that such money is a small price to pay to ensure a more prosperous future for the state. She credited Holmes and Hunter-Gault with courage in the face of adversity, saying “I am here because people I did not know and will never know, took up the challenge that the door could be open for me.”

While the memories from that time are often painful, they need to be taught and accepted by Georgians, Franklin said, because understanding what led to mistakes in the past can prevent similar ones in the future.