Georgia voters made their choices at the polls this month and it could mean changes for higher education in the state.
A new governor will take office in January, and there’ll be key changes in how higher education legislation is shaped in the Georgia Legislature. Earl Ehrhart, described by some as the 20th member of the state Board of Regents, decided not to run for re-election to the state House of Representatives. Fran Millar, the Republican chair of the state Senate’s Higher Education Committee, lost his re-election bid to Sally Harrell, a Democrat.
We reached out to some folks who closely watch higher education issues to get their thoughts about what to expect.
Here are some takeaways:
More discussion, and possibly legislation, on needs-based aid
Georgia is one of two states that does not offer state aid programs weighted to financial need, the nonprofit Georgia Budget and Policy Institute said in a September 2017 report. There’s been more conversation about this topic among lawmakers, educators and others.
“With Fran Millar’s loss, there is an absence of leadership on need-based aid. But it’s an opportunity for a legislator to step up on an issue that is of high interest to families,” said Jennifer Lee, higher education policy analyst for the institute.
How to keep college costs down?
Kyle Wingfield, president & CEO of the nonprofit Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution opinion writer, said it’s a good time to discuss ways to keep public college costs down. Some schools, such as Perdue University in Indiana, offer income-sharing agreements where students will repay a college a percentage of their future earnings.
Wingfield said he doesn’t necessarily support all approaches, such as income-sharing agreements, but a conversation about keeping costs down “is where we need to be focused.”
More support for dual-enrollment
Dual-enrollment, which allows students to take college courses while still in high school, is popular with students and lawmakers. Enrollment is up and those we interviewed anticipate more money directed to the program.
“I think you will see more increases in dual enrollment, particularly…with high-demand careers,” said Dana Rickman, vice president of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.
Gov. Nathan Deal in January expanded the HOPE Career Grant to offer students greater career opportunities in five of Georgia’s fast-growing industries, increasing the number of programs that qualify for this grant to 17.
More focus on college completion
Democrats picked up several seats in the Georgia Legislature, and Rickman expects more legislation to support students once they’re enrolled. A team of researchers recently released a report saying Georgia needs to do more to improve its college graduation rate. Lee expects the University System of Georgia to ask for more money for its Complete College Georgia effort.
There may be some changes at Georgia’s University System or Technical College System
The governor has the power to determine who leads those two systems or serves on those boards. The terms of three Regents members expire at the end of the year.
“A new leader is going to want to put their own people in place,” Rickman said.