Ga. board approves HOPE increases, dual enrollment budget gap fix

The Georgia Student Finance Commission’s board voted in favor of a plan Friday to plug a $25 million budget gap in its popular dual enrollment program by passing along the costs for student books and fees to colleges and universities providing the courses.

The board also voted to increase HOPE Scholarship awards by 3% and to provide an extra $500 a semester, or $375 per quarter, for students receiving the Zell Miller Scholarship for the next academic year.

Commission members and administrators believe these two steps will maintain college access and increase affordability for Georgia students.

State leaders had discussed several options to lower costs for the dual enrollment program, which allows high school students to take college courses, such as limiting access to 11th and 12th graders. Enrollment nearly quadrupled in a recent five-year stretch from 11,484 students during fiscal year 2013 to 43,639 students in fiscal 2018, state officials said.

The state’s budget for the program has increased by similar totals during those years. The 12-month budget that will start in July for the program is about $100 million. Commission officials estimated the program’s cost would be about $125 million.

Commission leaders think the plan approved Friday is a good interim solution to the financial problem. Colleges and universities are not permitted to charge mandatory fees or book charges to students, the agency’s president, Caylee Noggle, wrote in a letter Friday to the schools.

“While we recognize the impact this may have on your institutions, this action will minimize the direct impact to students and not directly eliminate any one or more student groups from participation,” Noggle said.

The letter also outlines the increases for students receiving either the HOPE or Zell scholarships or HOPE grants. For those students, the additional money will cover a 2.5% tuition increase approved last month by the state's Board of Regents. The tuition increases range between $35 and $125 per semester for full-time students. Graduate school tuition will rise by 1% to 2%, officials said.