Georgia is one of only two states that does not operate a need-based financial aid program. “Need-based” financial aid targets dollars based on a measure of a student’s financial need. In 2018, the Georgia Legislature passed House Bill 787 with a provision authorizing the Georgia Student Finance Commission to create the state’s first broad need-based aid program for university system students. However, policymakers have yet to fund the grants or determine the program’s structure.
Students who would benefit from need-based aid are racially and ethnically diverse. For example, when looking at recipients of the Pell Grant—a federal grant for students from families with low incomes—at Georgia’s public colleges and universities, 45 percent of Pell students are Black or African-American; 32 percent are white; 12 percent are Hispanic/Latinx; and 5 percent are Asian.
To help more Georgians access a higher education, write your lawmakers and ask them to support funding for a need-based financial aid program in Georgia as well as other opportunities to make college more affordable and accessible. For more info and contact information, find your lawmaker here.
Lowering financial barriers to college success in a way that reduces racial, ethnic and income disparities is part of our 2022 Policy Priorities. GBPI will track policies related to aid and other college affordability measures throughout the 2022 Legislative Session.
The Basics on Need-Based Aid:
Factsheet: The Need for Need-Based Aid. Feb. 23, 2022.
Report: A Need-Based Financial Aid Program for Georgia. Nov. 2, 2021.
Report: Scholarships are a Better Way to Use Lottery Dollars Than Student Loans. Oct. 14, 2020.
How to Help:
You can make a difference by showing your lawmakers why you support a funded need-based aid program. You can find your legislator and their email address here.
You can also help build public awareness and urge others to contact their legislator. Here are a few sample social media messages that you can use as a starting point for your own message, or verbatim.
- Click here to tweet, or copy and paste to share to Facebook: College costs continue to soar, yet Georgia is one of only two states with no need-based aid program to help students afford college. Ask your lawmaker to support this necessary program today: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/make-college-more-accessible-and-affordable-for-georgia-students #gapol
- Click here to tweet, or copy and paste to share to Facebook: We all benefit when more Georgians can pursue a higher education. Now, lawmakers have an opportunity to help Georgians who are qualified and want to go to school but face financial hurdles by funding our state’s need-based aid program. https://gbpi.org/a-need-based-financial-aid-program-for-georgia/ #gapol
If you have a personal experience you’d like to share highlighting the need for a need-based aid program, please share your story below.
Content Warning: Some of the stories below detail abusive situations.
Valloyomara Bennett, 21, is majoring in Psychology at Georgia State University. She aspires to become a Licensed Professional Counselor and has a passion for addressing mental health in Black and Latinx communities. Her motivation stems from her own experiences. As a child, she suffered separation from a parent who was deported, abuse and abandonment. Homeless for much of her youth, she bounced between shelters, lived with co-workers and attended multiple high schools before graduating from Towers High School in DeKalb County. She always wanted to go to college and says she knew “education was my way out.”
Though she overcame so many challenges in high school, they accumulated during college. Bennett’s grandmother passed away, an intimate relationship turned violent and she was diagnosed with major depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Bennett says, “It was a dark time for me.” Her grades fell, she lost her HOPE Scholarship and considered dropping out. “It makes it exceptionally hard when you have no [parental] support,” she says.
Bennett has a strong sense of independence forged from a history of working and supporting herself throughout high school. To pay for school and living expenses, she works 40 hours a week, uses the federal Pell Grant and relies on federal and state loans. “I work and work and work…. In order for me to eat, I have to work,” she says. She spent most of the summer couch-surfing, on the verge of homelessness. Despite everything, she is looking forward to going back to school. “This year I’m joining two clubs…. I’m really excited to be back on campus, and my course load isn’t that heavy (four classes). I’m on academic probation, but I’m giving myself a chance to get involved.”
She says, “With all the horrible things I’ve gone through I didn’t let it stop me…. I want to be helpful and of service to people around me. Everyone has a place on this earth.”
Kathryn Mulvaney is a student at Gwinnett Technical College in her mid-30s. She took Adult Education classes and got her GED at the school, completed her certificate and diploma level coursework in Business Management with a 4.0 GPA, is currently in associate-level classes and has been accepted to bachelor’s degree programs at Georgia State University and Georgia Gwinnett College.
When she transitioned to associate-level courses at Gwinnett Tech in January, she lost her Zell Miller Grant, which applies only to certificate and diploma level courses. She was not able to get a HOPE Scholarship because she does not have a traditional high school GPA as a GED recipient even with a 4.0 in her certificate and diploma classes. “There’s a cliff. That’s the frustration,” she says.
Kathryn dropped out of high school at 16 after her father’s death from cancer sent her family into a financial spiral. She says of that time, “School was not my priority.” Kathryn went straight to work and continued to work throughout her teens and twenties, trying to survive without a high school education. When her office closed and she lost her job in her mid-30s, she decided she needed to get her GED.
She says, “Adult Ed really turned my life around. Having access to free classes opened the doors to go to college…. I’m in my 30s; I have a long time left in the workforce to give back.”
Kathryn initially qualified for the federal need-based Pell Grant, and her 4.0 GPA qualified her for the Zell Miller Grant. But income fluctuations meant that she lost Pell, and she still struggled to scrape together money for fees, books and living expenses while going to school. Though she wanted to graduate without debt after seeing her peers struggle with student loans, she lacked enough money to cover her costs and now has about $5,600 in loans.
Kathryn’s goal is to work in Human Resources administration, motivated by the desire to better support employees in small-to mid-sized companies, give people a better quality of life, and make a difference in a company. She says of her future education, “I have big goals… but money is the deciding factor. Cost is a real issue.”
Hernán Gallegos graduated salutatorian from Towers High School in 2015. He is a first-generation college student and describes his family as very supportive but their financial background as “very low-income… [my family] didn’t know how drastic [the cost] could be for higher education.” Gallegos qualified for the Zell Miller Scholarship and worked with a college access and success organization at his high school called College AIM to ultimately be accepted to three universities: the University of Georgia (UGA), Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and Tufts University in Boston. Even with a scholarship at UGA, he chose to go out of state to Tufts because he got the best financial aid package from the university that would cover living expenses and prevent him from taking out loans. He graduated from Tufts with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering and is currently working in Boston for a computer software company.
Blog: Students Need to Be Secure to Be Successful. April 30, 2020.
Blog: Unused Lottery Funds Available to Support More Affordable Access to College. Feb. 14, 2020.
Blog: Three Ways Georgia Lawmakers Can Make College More Affordable in 2020. Jan. 7, 2020.
Blog: Lawmakers Pass Need-Based Aid Bill, What’s Next? Apr. 10, 2018.
Bill Analysis: Bill Proposes Grant for Working Georgia College Students with Financial Need. Mar. 7, 2018.