Friday, February 8, 2013

Rep: HOPE grant changes would give more students access to tech school education

Posted By on Fri, Feb 8, 2013 at 2:25 PM

State Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna
Gov. Nathan Deal yesterday unexpectedly supported a Democrat's proposal that might literally give some hope to students attending technical college and struggling to pay tuition.

State Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, and other Democrats have proposed lowering the high-school grade point average requirement for the HOPE grant from 3.0 to 2.0 after noticing a disproportionate drop in student enrollment in the technical school system.

The HOPE grant - not to be confused with the HOPE scholarship - offers merit-based funding mainly to technical-college students across the state.

Deal backed a proposal that raised the minimum GPA to 3.0 two years ago for budgetary reasons.

But he's now advocating lowering the eligibility requirement as more students find themselves unable to attend college. A rise in Georgia Lottery revenues for the first six months of the current fiscal year - up 7.6 percent, or $32 million, from the same period last year - allows the state to make this change, which will cost between $5 million and $8 million a year.

Nearly 39,000 fewer students attended technical schools between 2011 and 2012, with the number of full-time students dropping by more than 26,000, according to a Georgia Budget and Policy Institute report released this week. The think tank also attributes the drop in enrolled students largely to the 2011 grant changes.

Nearly 9,000 students became ineligible for the HOPE grant last year, the AJC reported. Ron Jackson, commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia, told the AJC that technical colleges will now try to get those students to re-enroll.

Tracy Ireland, vice president of the Georgia Student Finance Commission, told CL that Deal's proposal could help coax students back into the school system.

"It looks like it would result in an entire number of students becoming eligible for the grant again," Ireland said.

The GPA change aims to increase the number of college graduates and "strengthen the state's workforce development efforts," according to a Governor's Office press release.

"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," Deal said in the statement.

Mike Light, the Technical College System of Georgia's executive director of communications, told CL that many students use the HOPE grant to earn a certificate or diploma and "get into the workforce quickly." More than half of the system's students are over the age of 26, he said, meaning that many have to support a family while also getting an education.

"There are folks out there who are trying to support a family, pay the mortgage, pay the bills and go to school at the same time," Light said. "This is a big change, and it's important that these folks get a little more assistance while they train for jobs and careers."

"Lowering the GPA will give more access to technical colleges," Evans said in a statement. "The requirements for technical colleges should be different since they cater to a different demographic than a traditional university. This bill will have a long term effect for the economic workforce. Building a stronger workforce starts with our technical schools, and the ability for people to attend these schools start with lowering the GPA to 2.0."

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