Improved Access to HOPE Grant a Start, but Georgia’s Higher Ed Goals Call for More

Gov. Nathan Deal deserves a pat on the back for his support of state Rep. Stacey Evans’ proposal to lower the GPA requirement for the lottery-funded HOPE Grant, which will give more students access to workforce education at technical colleges.

Still, much more needs to be done if the state is going to meet its goal for 250,000 more students to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2020. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute has long talked about the importance of lowering the HOPE grant GPA requirement in order to help meet those policy goals.

In 2011, General Assembly made several damaging changes to HOPE. During the 2011 and 2012 academic years, the GPA requirement to maintain the HOPE Grant increased from a 2.0 to a 3.0. As a result, over 42,000 students lost HOPE grants those years. About 9,000 students left technical colleges due to the more rigorous requirements.  House Bill 54, sponsored by Rep. Stacey Evans would rightly return the GPA threshold to 2.0 and once again give access to more students.

But lawmakers also must reverse another 2011 policy change restricting access to the HOPE scholarship, which gives financial help to university students. Because of this change, beginning in 2015 high school graduates must complete advanced courses in core subject areas to qualify for the HOPE scholarship. In addition, lawmakers decreased the size of the scholarship, which means it covers less of students’ tuition.  Right now, the scholarship pays for 87 percent of tuition, but it’s expected to only cover 55 percent by 2018 as tuition continues to increase.

The governor now recognizes that setting the GPA bar higher for technical college students to get the HOPE grant is counterproductive, and we encourage him to rethink the restrictions for university students too. The state should focus the HOPE scholarship to students where the aid would make the greatest impact on helping students obtain a degree.

Unless these changes are reversed, fewer Georgia students will be able to afford college, and the state won’t meet its goal of 250,000 more students earning a degree or certificate beyond high school by 2020.  The state must make sure it gets the best bang for the buck from $900 million a year in lottery money.

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