Bill aims to increase funds for HOPE Grant
by Celia Shortt
The HOPE Grant for technical college students in Georgia could once again cover full tuition if the latest proposed legislation is approved in the 2014 Georgia General Assembly session, which begins in January.
The House bill is co-sponsored by Georgia State Representatives Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, and Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, and would bring back aid to technical college students that was cut two years ago.
In 2011, the state had to lessen the benefits of the Hope Scholarship for traditional four-year college students and the Hope Grant for technical college students. The changes to the grant included reducing the amount of money awarded for tuition and requiring a minimum GPA of 3.0 to keep the award. Both the Hope Scholarship and the Hope Grant are funded by the Georgia Lottery.
Since the Hope Grant was reduced, technical colleges throughout the state — including West Georgia Technical College — have experienced a massive decrease in enrollment.
“When they (students) leave, technical colleges have to increase tuition, creating a larger gap,” said Evans’ Chief of Staff Seth Clark. “It (the proposed bill) would stop the enrollment purge. Technical colleges would get more tuition money by increased enrollment.”
According to published reports, the Georgia Student Finance Commission reported increasing the grant could cost $30 million annually. Evans would like the lottery to give a higher percentage of its ticket sales toward it.
“This would require a 1 percent to a 1.5 percent lottery contribution increase, which we don’t think would be detrimental to lottery operations,” Evans was quoted as saying in a recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Georgia’s industry needs more technical graduates…. This is a way to get them back and get them graduated and working.” According to the same article, lottery officials said increasing the percentage given to education would lessen money for prizes and could stifle ticket sales.
The proposed bill would be the second change by the Georgia Assembly to the Hope Grant. In July, it voted to reduce the minimum GPA from 3.0 to 2.0.
“We made some good strides last year,” said State Representative Lynn Smith, R-Newnan. “We were able to chop the requirement of 3.0 to 2.0 for technical qualification.”
The grant may reach some people who thought they were unable to maintain a 3.0, she said.
West Georgia Technical College is the third largest technical college in Georgia. Since the GPA minimum requirements and award reduction were instituted, it has seen a drop in enrollment. WGTC officials hope that the changes to the GPA requirements could mean the reverse.
“Thanks to the law resetting the HOPE grant GPA requirement from 3.0 to 2.0, 40 percent of those students who were adversely affected when the GPA requirement was increased have been able to return to school statewide,” said outgoing WGTC President Dr. Skip Sullivan.
“We expect even more of these students to return in spring semester,” he said. ‘The HOPE grant is a valuable resource for our students, and we are hard at work to help students best utilize it and all the resources Georgia provides to improve education and the state’s workforce.”
These proposed changes to the Hope Grant do not affect the Hope Scholarship.