Paying for college has often been a deal-breaker for many individuals desiring to pursue a post-secondary education. Georgia has long looked to its prized HOPE program as a resource for helping Georgia students finance a college education. While HOPE has helped many Georgia students pay for college over the years, it is important to recognize that the program is purely merit-based. To calm the nerves of proponents of merit-based incentives, I too am a proponent of rewarding merit – we’re on the same team here! Nevertheless, I also recognize that every student cannot graduate at the top of their class. It’s simply impossible. There will always be a student in the 95th percentile, 70th percentile, and unfortunately the 10th percentile.
So, should qualified students who don’t make the top grades and have financial constraints forgo pursuing a post-secondary education? My personal opinion is no.
If equal opportunity is truly the goal of public policy then merit and need should be components of Georgia’s financial aid policies for higher education. What became apparent during the previous General Assembly is that the ability to pay for a postsecondary education is not a particular priority of the state’s financial assistance strategy. The elimination of all need-based grant aid from the state budget for fiscal year 2012 made this very clear.
I agree with pessimists who contend that hope alone will not solve societal problems. In this case I am referring to a HOPE program that faces a structural deficit, along with other public policies that present real costs to many families across Georgia. For Georgians concerned about the state’s future economic prosperity, disconnect between stated economic goals (e.g. building a more educated workforce) and enacted public policies (e.g. elimination of need-based financial aid programs) only makes competing for good paying jobs and building an economy in which all Georgians can participate and thrive more challenging.
GBPI recently released a report titled Making a Case for Need-based Financial Aid in Georgia. This report highlights how the increasing cost of higher education, disinvestment in state support for higher education, and declining household incomes for many Georgia families threatens to limit access to higher education in Georgia. It is difficult to imagine Georgia being an attractive place to raise a family or operate a business if it doesn’t invest in its future workforce today.