Legislation that tightened requirements for Georgia’s HOPE Grant was overturned last week after receiving criticism for its negative effect on students and technical colleges throughout the state.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law House Bill 372, which lowers the minimum GPA requirement for acquiring HOPE grants — part of Georgia’s lottery-funded scholarship program, designated for technical school students — back to its original threshold, 2.0. HOPE Grants fund tuition costs for qualified students.
The move comes two years after the Georgia General Assembly agreed to increase the GPA requirement to 3.0 in an effort to overhaul the HOPE program and prevent its collapse.
The change caused thousands of students to lose the award and led to enrollment decreases — more than 40,000 students — at technical schools throughout Georgia.
HB 372, signed April 24, is backed by Deal as a way to drive workforce development in the state.
“We need more college or technical college degrees in order to attract and fill the jobs of tomorrow,” Deal said. “This additional benefit will provide Georgians with greater access to school at a relatively small cost to the state.”
Lowering the GPA requirement is expected to affect the state by $5 million to $8 million, according to the author of the bill, but allow more students to remain in school and earn degrees.
Recent growth in lottery revenues will cover the additional costs.
Ogeechee Technical College President Dawn Cartee said the change is positive news.
“Returning the GPA requirement back to the previous 2.0 benchmark will provide the opportunity for more students to complete college, get a job, and improve their lives,” she said. “Ogeechee Tech did experience a small decline in enrollment following the tightened HOPE requirements (from approximately 2,800 students to 2,400). Even though the college tried to address the needs of students by offering student loans, there were still some students who could no longer afford to go to college. The change in the GPA requirements will open the door for students who might otherwise have been restricted from receiving financial aid to have that opportunity.”
Lawmakers also plan to restore $6.5 million in grants for technical college classes for nurses, teachers and truck driving students in the state’s budget for fiscal 2014.
“All of the certificate and diploma programs at Ogeechee Tech will likely feel a positive impact from the GPA requirement changes, but those singled out by Gov. Deal — nursing, early childhood care and education, and commercial truck driving — will feel the most impact,” Cartee said. “Careers in those particular disciplines are important to health care, to caring for our children and to the logistics of moving goods into and out of our state and nation, all of which are vital to our economy and quality of life.
“The three programs mentioned are all vital to serving the needs of our region and state, and special considerations for funding students’ education in those areas will help ensure a trained workforce in those career areas,” she said.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.