Education beyond high school increases earning potential, strengthens the workforce, boosts economic development and helps move people up the economic ladder. Georgia’s public colleges and universities provide a strong foundation for people to realize these benefits. The state is a longtime supporter of public higher education, dating to 1785 when the General Assembly adopted the University of Georgia Charter, making it the first public college in the U.S. The state is home to the country’s most generous merit-based state scholarships and grants. And Georgia’s college students are among the most diverse by race, ethnicity and income.
But the higher education landscape changed over the years, testing the state’s ability to keep up. Last week the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute hosted a webinar to focus on three major trends shaping the future of higher education.
Education or training beyond high school is now critical to financial security. Long-term trends show earnings declining for workers without a college credential. Employers are demanding their workers complete more education and training. Job opportunities are limited without education beyond high school.
Yet college is much more expensive for students. Costs for students and families increased due to higher tuition and fees and smaller benefits from HOPE. While tuition and fees rose during the recent recession-era budget cuts, state financial aid didn’t keep pace. HOPE cuts immediately increased costs for students receiving that assistance.
College students are more diverse and are in more financial need than before. More students from low and middle-income families are attending college than in the past and the recession sped up that trend. About half of students in the university and technical college systems receive the federal Pell Grant for low- and middle-income families. In Georgia’s university system, the typical college student who applies for financial aid comes from a family with an income of about $40,000 a year. College students are also now more diverse by race and ethnicity than in the past. Forty years ago, 83 percent of students in the university system were white. Today, 51 percent are white, and Georgia’s college students better reflect the state’s diversity.
These converging trends make it more important than ever to support state funding for public colleges. Georgia’s post-recession state revenue growth prompted the Legislature to restore funding to colleges. But as budget pressures increase and future economic downturns inevitably sap state revenue, it is vital to keep strong support for colleges so students are not stuck with a bill they can’t afford. The state can also build off HOPE’s legacy to better support college access for the growing number of students with financial need.
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