The proposed change also would increase how much students can receive, from the $2,500 current limit to a total of $3,500. It would allow students to receive up to $2,500 in one payment, after which they would be eligible for up to $1,000 more if needed.
Colleges determine eligibility for the grants, which are awarded to students on a first-come, first-served basis, according to a spokeswoman for the Georgia Student Finance Commission.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, told legislators Monday that the change would “help Georgia students get across the finish line and become higher wage earners in our state.”
It builds on legislation passed last year that created completion grants to help cover costs for needy students who are close to graduating.
Martin’s proposed change would allow students to qualify for help after finishing just 70% of their credit requirements for a four-year program or 45% of their credits for a two-year program. The program currently requires students to have completed 80% of their credits before they can get need-based help.
Martin said the current threshold doesn’t make sense since students often do financial planning on an annual basis. For a two-year program, students typically would have completed only half their needed credits as they begin their second year of studies.
“They had a really hard time using it with the 80% number so we think that (the change) will increase the usage substantially,” Martin told lawmakers.
In this, the program’s first year, about $4.2 million of a $10 million budget has been utilized so far, according to commission numbers. The current year’s program runs through June 30.
Martin previously told lawmakers he hopes to increase the program’s annual budget to $25 million.
Georgia Budget and Policy Institute policy analyst Ashley Young called the bill an opportunity to remove barriers for students.
“A minor financial setback can threaten years of educational progress for students that pay for college and living costs independently,” she said in a written statement. “Expanding access to completion grants is a meaningful way for lawmakers to help students complete their degree programs when their financial aid options have been exhausted.”