Georgia lawmakers pass expansion of college need-based financial aid

House Bill 249 expands need-based financial aid for Georgia's college students. Miguel Martinez /AJC FILE PHOTO

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

House Bill 249 expands need-based financial aid for Georgia's college students. Miguel Martinez /AJC FILE PHOTO

A bill to provide more need-based financial aid to Georgia college students won approval Wednesday from the Georgia General Assembly.

House Bill 249 expands on legislation passed last year to help students who can’t afford their tuition. The update, which now heads to the governor for his signature, increases the maximum award students can receive to $3,500, up from $2,500.

Sen. Max Burns, R-Sylvania, called that additional funding the “best thousand dollars we could ever invest in the state of Georgia.”

The Senate passed the measure Wednesday, but tacked on an amendment that required the bill to go back to the House for final approval. The House unanimously finalized the bill late Wednesday.

The bill also would allow students to receive the need-based aid earlier in their academic studies.

As the law currently stands, students are eligible for funding upon completing 80% of their credits. The revision allows 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 bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, told the Senate’s higher education committee last week that the program is “a good investment” in students who “have gotten to this point through hard work.”

Advocates of need-based aid cheered the bill’s successful passage.

“Just one small financial setback can make paying for tuition or living expenses nearly impossible, threatening years of college academic success,” said Georgia Budget and Policy Institute education policy analyst Ashley Young 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.”

She called the bill “a step in the right direction to help financially marginalized students gain access to college.”

The Senate added an amendment that allows military veterans to participate in a tuition-free, commercial driver’s license training program with the Technical College System of Georgia. That program is subject to funding from the General Assembly.