Georgia Governor Nathan Deal Expands Access to Technical Colleges

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signs bill to expand access to technical colleges Wikimedia Commons / credit:Chris Moncus[/caption]

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed a bill last Wednesday that will reduce GPA requirements to expand access to the state’s technical schools. HB 372 lowers the minimum GPA to 2.0 to allow more students to receive HOPE grants — Georgia’s lottery-funded scholarship program — to enroll in technical colleges.

“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.”

The original GPA for a HOPE grant was 3.0, but sponsors of the legislation argue that lowering the GPA will allow more students to receive the scholarship. Additionally, the governor’s office also said they have the ability to pay for the potential $5 million to $8 million influx of scholarship recipients due to an increase in lottery revenues.

“In recent years, Georgia has seen a large drop in technical college enrollment – much larger than in our University System,” Deal said. “For some students enrolled in a technical school, the loss of scholarship money put higher education out of reach. This law will provide greater access to school and to a brighter career for thousands of Georgians.”

The bill supports Gov. Deal’s initiative, “Complete College Georgia,” which is a collaboration between the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia to ensure that by 2020 an additional 250,000 students in the state graduate with a post-secondary degree or certificate.

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI), a non-partisan public policy think tank, recognized that the state’s 2014 fiscal year budget would cut funding for technical education by 7.5 percent due to the lack of enrollment because of the HOPE grant’s rigorous eligibility requirements.

“Providing more access to Georgia’s technical colleges is one of the top accomplishments of the 2013 legislative session,” said Alan Essig, executive director of the GBPI. “Now that the governor signed the bill lowering the GPA requirement for a HOPE grant from 3.0 to a more reasonable 2.0 level, more Georgians will have access to higher education that they can use to get better jobs and help boost the state’s economy.”

Though the changes to GPA requirements will widen the pool of eligible applicants to Georgia’s technical schools, it does raise questions about whether the state has allocated enough funding in the budget in recent years to ensure academic achievement at the K-12 level.

According to the GBPI, Georgia lawmakers have left a $1 billion hole in the K-12 education budget for the last decade. The combination of state cuts and reduced local tax digests from low property taxes has hurt funding to reduce class sizes, eliminate shorter calendar periods, and stave off teacher furloughs.

The GBPI does state that an additional $205 million put into the 2014 fiscal year budget to fund increased enrollment and teacher salary adjustments would level the underfunded education budget for the next school year.

Accordingly, increased lottery revenue complements the GPA changes to HOPE grants that would begin to close the enrollment gap at Georgia’s technical colleges.