Senate passes bill to change HOPE Grant

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill Friday that would allow more technical college students to receive the HOPE Grant.

Students will be eligible if they maintain a 2.0 grade-point average under House Bill 372. That’s down from the current 3.0 rule, but a return to the requirement that had existed for years before lawmakers overhauled the lottery-funded scholarship in 2011.

The bill returns to the House because of changes in it made by the Senate Higher Education Committee. The committee added language from Senate Bill 103, which would allow but not require the state’s technical colleges to be renamed as community colleges. While that bill passed the Senate, it has stalled in the House.

HB 372 has received bipartisan support and been endorsed by Gov. Nathan Deal.

The bill is in response to frustrations over many technical college students dropping out or choosing not to enroll because they couldn’t meet the higher standard.

Students in the Technical College System of Georgia are generally older and many work to support their families, which makes it harder for them to earn high marks, system officials have said.

The new standard is estimated to allow between 2,500 and 5,000 students to re-enroll in the grant program, officials said.

The HOPE Scholarship, which is used by University System of Georgia students, would keep the 3.0 GPA requirement. Both awards cover most of the in-state tuition.

The Senate passed another HOPE-related bill, which also must return to the House.

House Bill 131 would give high school students who take dual-enrollment classes at local colleges an extra boost when determining their eligibility for the scholarship. Students who take college-level Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes already get this advantage.

Before passing this bill, senators intensely debated an amendment t0 change eligibility for the Zell Miller Scholarship, which pays full tuition for the state’s highest achieving students. The amendment would have eliminated the GPA and SAT/ACT requirement and instead given the scholarship to those who graduate in the top 3 percent of their high school class, but it failed to pass.