Ga. Lawmakers Look to Lower Grant Requirements

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by Tina A. Brown

hope_programGeorgia lawmakers are poised to reverse a two-year-old law that increased the grade point average eligibility for students seeking state grants at technical colleges.

The change would reduce the eligibility grade point average from 3.0 to 2.0, state officials said. The House bill was passed overwhelmingly earlier this month in the Georgia State Assembly. The state Senate is reviewing the proposed change.

The Hope Grant program is funded by the Georgia Lottery, which has lost revenue during the recession.

Lawmakers had hoped that increasing the grade point average of its technical college students in 2011 would stabilize funding for the program. But the change resulted in some “unintended consequences” for nontraditional students seeking new skills at technical colleges, said Mike Light, spokesman for the Technical College System of Georgia. “It hurt our students pretty bad,” he said.

Nearly 42,000 students who had been receiving the Hope grants didn’t return to technical colleges, one year after the grade point eligibility was changed to a 3.0, Light said. Students said they couldn’t afford to come back to school without the grants, or they didn’t come back because they feared that they wouldn’t be able to earn a 3.0 grade point average. The change put pressure on a population of students who are likely to have families, mortgages and other responsibilities, Light said.

The proposal to return to the 2.0 grade point average was supported by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Rep. Charles Gregory, a Republican, was the only member of the house to vote against the change. He was unavailable to comment on this story.

It boiled down to dollars and cents and fewer workers in the pipeline for future employment.

Fewer receipts from the Georgia lottery in fiscal year 2011-2012 placed a strain on funding of Hope grants, said Jonathan Stroble, spokesman for the Georgia Student Finance Commission, the agency that administers the lottery funding.

Before the House vote, the General Assembly was told that the costs of lottery-funded programs were “outstripping new lottery revenues at an accelerating rate that, if unchecked, would deplete lottery reserves,” state documents show. This decline in total reserves would cause problems in the administration of lottery programs by fiscal year 2013.

The General Assembly voted to increase the grade point average of technical college students from a 3.0 to a 2.0 in 2011, thus reducing the number of students eligible to receive the grants. The state also stopped allocating Hope grants to pay for books and fees of students seeking certificates and two-year diplomas for students studying barbering, cosmetology, welding, early childhood education, computer technology and other subjects at technical schools.

Light said that lawmakers proposed the new bill in 2013 because of projections that fewer trained students entering the workforce would impact the state’s employment rate. With the proposal to reverse the law, Light said, “We’re happy to know that that bill may pass.”

Technical colleges in Georgia guarantee employers that their graduates are prepared to work in today’s market. If a student is hired and an employer questions that student’s ability, the colleges will re-enroll the student and retrain them for free, Light said.

“There’s a high demand for our graduates. The big impact (of the change in the grade point average requirement) was [that] there were fewer students in the pipeline to go into the workforce,” said Light.

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