Gov. Nathan Deal has apparently heard some of the protests about the changes he made two years ago to HOPE, reversing his decision to require that even students going to the state’s technical colleges on HOPE Grants also have a 3.0 GPA.
The AJC reported that nearly 9,000 technical college students lost the award last year because they couldn’t meet the higher standard. Ron Jackson, the commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia, told legislators last month that thousands of other students dropped out of the technical colleges or didn’t enroll because they couldn’t afford to pay what HOPE no longer covered.
The system’s enrollment dropped by about 24,500 students to 170,860 last year. Historically, nearly 75 percent of technical college students receive HOPE.
The change needs the Legislature’s approval, but has bi-partisan support and is expected to pass.
Now, the question is: Will Deal respond to complaints about how few rural students are getting the Zell Miller Scholarship, which is the highest paying tier of HOPE and limited to high school graduates with high GPAs and SATs?
From the governor’s office:
Gov. Nathan Deal, along with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, House Speaker David Ralston and state Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, announced today a proposal that will lower to its original level the GPA requirement for the HOPE Grant, which goes to students in the technical college system. By expanding access to the HOPE Grant, the governor and legislators aim to strengthen the state’s workforce development efforts.
“After talking with many members of the General Assembly and crunching the numbers at our budget office, I’m glad to report that we’ll be able to lower the GPA requirement for the HOPE Grant back to 2.0 after raising it to 3.0 for budgetary reasons two years ago,” Deal said. “I believe this additional benefit will help Georgia families trying to get ahead and will boost the state’s ability to attract and fill high-skilled jobs.
“With an estimated cost between $5 million and $8 million, we believe this will provide greater access to school – and access to a brighter career – at a relatively small cost to the state.”
Current law requires a GPA of 3.0 to obtain the HOPE Grant for technical schools. The change to a 2.0 GPA will require legislative action for implementation.
Since the needed HOPE reforms were implemented when Deal first took office, there has been a decline in enrollment in the technical school system and in the University System. But the state has seen a disproportionate drop in the technical school system. For some students enrolled in the system, the loss of scholarship money put higher education out of reach. This new bipartisan effort is one way Deal intends to remedy the problem.
“I’m proud to stand here with a bipartisan group of Georgia leaders committed to helping all Georgians attain a higher education degree,” he said. “I look forward to working on this issue with Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate. In the chambers, of course, I work through my floor leaders, but I’m happy to say they’ll be working with Rep. Stacey Evans of Smyrna who has worked with me on this issue.”
The state is able to expand funds for the HOPE Grants because of recent growth in Lottery revenues. In the first six months of this fiscal year, deposits were up $32 million, a 7.6 percent increase over the same period the year before.
In addition to the proposed change to the GPA requirement for technical colleges, Deal announced plans to attach language to move higher education funding in Georgia from an enrollment-based formula to an outcomes-based formula, as recommended by the Higher Education Funding Commission. (See report here.)
“Increasing the numbers of grant recipients does no one any good if the student doesn’t finish with a degree,” said Deal. “Put simply, we need more Georgians with college or technical school degrees in order to attract the jobs of tomorrow to our state.”
Deal previously announced that his recommended budget for fiscal year 2014 includes 10 extra days for Pre-K, which restores the full 180-day school year, and a 3 percent increase for HOPE recipients. When Deal took office two years ago, the reserves funds for the HOPE and Pre-K programs were on the path to bankruptcy. Because of courageous action by the governor and the General Assembly, including both Republicans and Democrats, the state has stabilized Lottery-funded programs and is now adding back to the programs as funds allow.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog