AJC On Campus: Bill would pay student loans for police; a new ‘Regents Cup’

A roundup of news and happenings from Georgia colleges and universities
Gov. Brian Kemp gives the State of the State address at the Capitol in Atlanta on Jan. 11, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/AJC file photo)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp gives the State of the State address at the Capitol in Atlanta on Jan. 11, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/AJC file photo)

Should Georgia pay off student loan debt to recruit and retain police officers? That proposal, which stalled during last year’s legislative session, is getting another look amid ongoing backing from Gov. Brian Kemp.

In this edition of AJC On Campus, we bring you updates on two pieces of higher education legislation and tell you how the University System of Georgia plans to promote free speech on college campuses through a new debate contest.

Student loan help for police

Gov. Brian Kemp, during his State of the State address on Jan. 11, urged passage of a bill that would create a police officer student loan repayment program. (Arvin Temkar/AJC file photo)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

It’s back.

House Bill 130, one of Gov. Brian Kemp’s public safety proposals, failed to move forward last year. To refresh your memory: The program would provide up to $20,000 in student loan repayments over five years for eligible, full-time Georgia police officers.

In 2023, the bill passed the House but never got to a vote in the Senate. In his Jan. 11 State of the State address, Kemp urged lawmakers “to complete what we started last year and give final passage to the peace officer loan repayment program.”

“Because despite what some may say, we need more police officers, not fewer,” Kemp said.

On Monday, the Senate heeded that call and unanimously passed an updated version of the bill that now goes back to the House for its approval.

Backers tout the proposal as a way to recruit and retain local and state police officers. It would fund student loan repayments for up to 800 officers and has a first-year budget of $3.2 million.

To be eligible for the program, applicants must have completed an undergraduate degree program, live in Georgia, and have been employed as a full-time police officer for the first time on or after Jan. 1, 2024. The program also would provide financial help to police officers who have been employed for at least a year and are currently enrolled in a criminal justice program.

Try, try again

Speaking of trying again, lawmakers are making another push to abolish one of three entities overseen by the Georgia Student Finance Commission.

House Bill 985, which received a thumbs-up last week from the House Higher Education Committee, would abolish the Georgia Higher Education Assistance Corporation and free up roughly $28 million for other higher education programs.

The public corporation was founded in 1965 to support a federal student loan program that no longer exists. Keeping the corporation intact creates a paperwork burden, officials argue. Last year, lawmakers sought to dissolve it through House Bill 319 — a fairly humdrum piece of legislation until an unrelated last-minute addition resulted in the bill being vetoed.

Inserted language would have required the Georgia General Assembly’s approval before public universities could raise tuition by more than 3%. Gov. Brian Kemp, in his veto statement, said the state constitution makes it clear that authority belongs to the Board of Regents.

Now the bill is back, in stripped-down form, to deal only with the abolishment of the corporation. Should it pass this year, officials said the money held by the corporation would be transferred to the Georgia Student Finance Authority, to be held in a separate reserve pending direction from the governor and General Assembly.

Campus debate

Last year, Georgia Board of Regents Chair Harold Reynolds voiced concerns that some college students may avoid talking about controversial topics for fear of being canceled.

At a January board meeting, he announced a way to combat that by promoting campus debate. The board and the University System of Georgia plan to sponsor a debate series with the aim of teaching students to discuss differing ideas in a civil way.

“We want to be known for that as a system. That the University System of Georgia is somewhere you can go and say what you think in a respectful manner,” Reynolds said.

Chancellor Sonny Perdue said details of the contest, which he referred to as the “Regents Cup,” are still being worked out but it will start this spring at schools that already have debate teams and will grow from there.

The goal, Perdue said, is to teach students to “debate with words, not violence” when they disagree.

A 2023 poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the University of Chicago Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression found that Americans view college campuses as much more open to liberal viewpoints than conservative perspectives. According to the AP, nearly half of adults who responded to the poll said liberals have “a lot” of freedom to express views, but only 1 in 5 said the same for conservatives.

Atlanta Tech celebrates Hank Aaron

Atlanta Technical College lowered flags to half-staff to honor Hank Aaron's life and impact to the college in 2021. (Hyosub Shin / AJC file photo)


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Atlanta Technical College will once again celebrate the late baseball great Hank Aaron.

The school will hold its third annual Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron Legacy Celebration on Thursday. The event also will showcase the grand opening of the school’s small business development center.

Aaron, an Atlanta Braves baseball player who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, died in 2021 at the age of 86.

An academic building at the college is named in his honor. Aaron contributed to scholarship programs and also served on the college’s local board of directors.

The Small Business Development Center will offer one-on-one consulting, business plan development, marketing strategies and networking opportunities to aspiring entrepreneurs around Atlanta. Workshops, seminars and training for small business leaders are also planned.

“By fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, we aim to create a vibrant small business scene that will not only benefit our students but also contribute to the overall economic growth of our city,” said Victoria Seals, the college’s president, in a written statement.

Perdue to give talk in Midwest

Then-U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue speaks at an event at the Spring Hollow Farm in Claxton about bringing high-speed internet to two rural Georgia counties. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

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Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

He’s a headliner headed to the Hawkeye State.

University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue will be the keynote speaker at the 36th Annual Celebration of Agriculture in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

About 700 people from across Eastern Iowa are expected to gather for the March 21 event held by the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.

Perdue was the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture under then-President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2021.

If you have any higher education tips or thoughts, email reporter Vanessa McCray at vanessa.mccray@ajc.com.