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Posted: 12:16 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013

Deal proposes HOPE changes for technical colleges

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Deal proposes more HOPE changes photo
Jason Getz, jgetz@ajc.com
Gov. Nathan Deal, along with members of the General Assembly, holds a news conference to discuss an addition to the Governor's agenda for the 2013 session in the Governor's Office Thursday afternoon in Atlanta, Ga., February 7, 2013.
Deal proposes more HOPE changes photo
Jason Getz, jgetz@ajc.com
Gov. Nathan Deal, center, standing next to the Speaker of the House David Ralston, center left, and other members of the General Assembly, hold a news conference to discuss an addition to the Governor's agenda for the 2013 session in the Governor's Office Thursday afternoon in Atlanta, Ga., February 7, 2013.

By Greg Bluestein and Laura Diamond

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gov. Nathan Deal backed a plan Thursday that gives technical college students a better chance at earning the lottery-funded HOPE Grant, responding to criticism that too many were dropping out or avoiding enrolling because of higher standards.

Students will be eligible for the award if they maintain a 2.0 grade-point average under the bipartisan plan Deal is pushing. That’s down from the current 3.0 rule and returns to the same standard that existed before lawmakers tightened eligibility requirements and reduced award payouts in 2011 to prevent the scholarship program from going broke.

“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.

Nearly 9,000 students lost the grant last year because they couldn’t meet the higher standard. Thousands of other students simply didn’t enroll because they couldn’t afford to pay what HOPE no longer covered, said Ron Jackson, the commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia. Technical colleges will reach out to students who left to try to get them to return, he said.

House and Senate Democrats filed measures — House Bill 54 and Senate Bill 59 — to make similar grade changes last year, but Deal and other Republicans didn’t back them. On Thursday, several House Democrats stood alongside Deal and praised the governor for supporting the shift.

“It’s a way to make sure technical college students don’t lose hope — literally,” House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams said.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, were conspicuously absent from the event. Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, speaking outside the governor’s office, said Deal should back a broader legislative package that Senate Democrats revealed Wednesday that undoes many other changes instilled in 2011.

“Senate Democrats are very supportive of this effort, but there are thousands of other students that this bill doesn’t help,” Henson said. “I don’t think it goes far enough. We certainly need to go farther in the future.”

Deal’s plan would cost between $5 million and $8 million a year. He said the state can afford it because lottery deposits were up $32 million in the first six months of this fiscal year, a 7.6 percent increase over the same period last year.

The governor also stressed the important role technical college graduates play in the state’s economy. Deal repeated statistics that show about 60 percent of all jobs by 2020 will require a certificate or degree beyond a high school diploma. Technical colleges need to graduate more students for the state to reach this level.

Jackson and lawmakers explained technical college students should be held to a different standard than a student applying for the HOPE Scholarship, which pays for most of the in-state tuition fee for University System of Georgia students who maintain at least a 3.0 GPA.

Many technical college students work and take care of families while balancing school. Nearly 60 percent of these students receive the Pell Grant, federal aid for low-income students. Almost half are over age 26, and many are much older. They’ve been out of high school for so long that it’s harder for them to maintain higher grades, Jackson said.

Technical colleges have advanced in recent years and offer demanding programs in welding, technology and health care. Jackson stressed that a 2.0 is considered a C and is a passing mark.

“At the end of the day we serve nontraditional students who want careers in the areas that meet our state’s workforce needs,” Jackson said.

Historically, nearly 75 percent of technical college students receive HOPE. The system’s enrollment dropped by about 24,500 students to 170,860 last year.

“The vast majority didn’t come back for financial reasons,” Jackson said. “This change will help our students and the state.”

In a separate matter, Deal will add a measure that changes the way Georgia funds the University and Technical College systems. The plan, developed by a commission that Deal appointed, would tie taxpayer money to how well students progress through and graduate from college. The current system is driven by enrollment with little consideration as to whether students ever graduate.

Under the plan, schools could earn or lose money based on whether they improve under the system starting in the 2016 fiscal year.

“Increasing the numbers of (HOPE) Grant recipients does no one any good if the student doesn’t finish with a degree,” Deal said. “Put simply, we need more Georgians with college or technical college degrees in order to attract the jobs of tomorrow into our state.”

The announcement builds on a string of other recent changes to lottery-funded programs. Last month, Deal proposed spending $6.5 million to provide extra funding for students pursuing technical college degrees in practical nursing, commercial truck driving, and early childhood care and education.

And his budget includes funding for a 3 percent increase in award payouts for HOPE Scholarship and Grant recipients, along with money for 10 extra school days for pre-kindergarten, restoring the program to a complete 180-day school year.

But the governor said other major changes to the HOPE program won’t have his support until the financial picture clears up.

Said Deal: “I’m not willing to go back to a position that brings us back to the brink of bankruptcy.”


How to get HOPE

Georgia’s popular lottery-funded HOPE scholarship program includes different awards, each with their own eligibility requirements. More information can be found at GAcollege411.org.

HOPE Scholarship

Who’s it for: Primarily for students at private colleges or a college in the University System of Georgia

Eligibility requirements: Graduate from high school with at least a 3.0 grade-point average. Maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in college. Students who graduate in 2015 and later will also be required to take and succeed in specific advanced courses while in high school to be eligible.

How much is it: The amount can vary annually. Payouts are determined by revenue from the Georgia Lottery, not tuition rates.

How many get it: About 100,400 recipients are projected for this fiscal year.

HOPE Grant

Who’s it for: Primarily for students in the Technical College System of Georgia

Eligibility requirements: Under current rules, recipients must maintain a 3.0 GPA in college. Gov. Nathan Deal backed a plan Thursday to revert to the 2.0 GPA requirement that was in place before a 2011 legislative overhaul of the HOPE program.

How much is it: The amount can vary annually. Payouts are determined by revenue from the Georgia Lottery, not tuition rates.

How many get it: About 81,000 recipients are projected for this fiscal year.

Zell Miller Scholarship

Who’s it for: Georgia’s highest-achieving students

Eligibility requirements: The scholarship is available to high school valedictorians, salutatorians or those who finish high school with at least a 3.7 GPA and a minimum of a 26 on the ACT or a 1200 on the math and reading portions of the SAT. To keep the award, students must maintain a 3.3 GPA in college.

How much is it: It’s a full-tuition award at public colleges. Private college students get up to $4,000 a year.

How many get it: About 13,600 recipients are projected for this fiscal year.

Who gets HOPE

The number of Georgia students receiving some form of HOPE has dropped since lawmakers overhauled the program in 2011, tying the amount awarded to lottery revenue instead of tuition rates.

The HOPE scholarship is for students in public and private colleges who maintain at least a 3.0 grade-point average. The HOPE grant is mainly used in public technical colleges. The Zell Miller Scholarship is a full-tuition scholarship for Georgia’s highest-achieving students.

Program … Fiscal Year 2011 … Fiscal Year 2012 … Fiscal Year 2013* … Fiscal Year 2014*

HOPE Grant … 141,887 … 98,790 … 81,008 … 83,438

Public HOPE/ Zell Miller … 102,311 … 98,898 … 96,920 … 99,828

Private HOPE/ Zell Miller … 15,354 … 14,072 … 13,736 … 14,148

Source: Georgia Student Finance Commission.

NOTE: FY 2013 and 2014 are projections. Zell Miller Scholarship started in FY 2012.

Complete coverage

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has provided unparalleled coverage of the HOPE program for years, with enhanced reporting since lawmakers began debating the 2011 overhaul. AJC reporters have reviewed data and requested documents to disclose who is — and who isn’t — receiving the award. The AJC will continue to cover this crucial issue.

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