A college education in Georgia just got less affordable. Tuition is going up again in the wake of cuts in state funds for the university system. Families now earn less than 20 years ago. The HOPE Scholarship covers far less than it used to and many students do not receive it. A college degree is more important than ever, yet it may be priced out of reach for many students.
The average cost to attend Georgia Tech will top $25,000 next year. This includes tuition, fees and books, as well as living expenses such as food, rent, transportation and other basic costs. At the University of Georgia it will cost more than $23,000. Even at less expensive schools, including Kennesaw State University and Georgia Southern University, the full cost to attend school can be prohibitively high.
Georgia’s families have dwindling spending power to cover climbing costs. In 2013 the median family income was $47,439. This is $6,312 less than in 2003 in inflation-adjusted dollars and about $2,800 less than in 1993.
Some students and their families are able to offset these costs a bit with the HOPE Scholarship, which is set to go up 3 percent next fall. Even with this increase, the scholarship pays for far less now than it once did. HOPE covered tuition in full as well as mandatory fees until fall 2011. It covers an estimated 71 percent of tuition at Georgia Tech next fall and about 75 percent at the University of Georgia. The HOPE Scholarship goes further at institutions with lower tuition, covering about 85 percent based on a preliminary estimate. It no longer covers mandatory fees, which can run $1,500 or more for each academic year at many institutions.
Many students don’t get the HOPE Scholarship. In 2012 about 44 percent of Georgia high school graduates who were freshmen in the university system did not get it. That number could climb in the future as more rigorous eligibility requirements are implemented for 2015’s high school graduates. And many students who start receiving the scholarship lose it. Of the nearly 19,000 freshmen who entered the university system in 2008 with the HOPE Scholarship, only 7,430 kept it each year until graduation. A small portion of those who lost it did regain it.
New research shows lower achieving students reap considerable benefits when they earn a bachelor’s degree. Investing in their success is just as important as investing in higher achieving students for Georgia to build a competitive workforce.
Signs of students’ financial strain are growing. The percentage of students receiving Pell grants rose from 27 percent to 45 percent from fall 2006 to fall 2013. The maximum Pell grant for the current school year is $5,730 but the average award is lower, $3,629 in the 2013-2014 school year, the most recent available. The grant helps but falls far short of the cost of attendance. More students are taking on greater debt to pay for college. An estimated 61 percent of graduates in 2013 carried student loan debt, up from 51 percent in 2006. And they owed more than before too—$24,517 compared to $16,807.
The university and technical college systems aim to help many more students finish a postsecondary program by 2020 through the Complete College Georgia initiative. An affordable college education is critical to the success of these efforts.