ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal says that he and other top elected leaders in state government support changing the GPA requirement to 2.0 on a scale of 0-4 for technical college students to participate in the HOPE Grant program.
Deal announced the proposal today, along with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who presides over the Senate, House Speaker David Ralston, and state Rep. Stacey Evans, a D-Smyrna.
The HOPE Grant grade-point average requirement for technical school students was originally 2.0 on a scale of 1-4, with 4.0 being the highest performance level. The requirement was raised to 3.0 two years ago because of budgetary issues.
By expanding access to the HOPE grant, Deal said in a news release today, state officials aim to strengthen the state's work force development efforts.
"After talking with many members of the General Assembly and crunching the numbers at our budget office, I'm glad to report that we'll be able to lower the GPA requirement for the HOPE Grant back to 2.0 after raising it to 3.0 for budgetary reasons two years ago," Deal said. "I believe this additional benefit will help Georgia families trying to get ahead and will boost the state's ability to attract and fill high-skilled jobs.
"With an estimated cost between $5 million and $8 million, we believe this will provide greater access to school — and access to a brighter career — at a relatively small cost to the state."
The change to a 2.0 GPA will require legislative action to change the current law, which requires a 3.0 minimum GPA.
Albany Technical College President Anthony Parker, who was attending a conference in California Thursday when contacted by The Albany Herald, said he's cautiously optimistic about the governer's plan.
"If the state can afford it, this will be a great thing for Albany Technical College," Parker said. "While 2.5 (or Deal's suggested 2.0) is not the grade we want our students to achieve, it's an indication that they're better than average. A lot of these students are just getting to the point where they're learning to study when they find that HOPE has run out for them. Many who are not Pell (Grant) eligible generally run out of money before they graduate.
"I had faculty and staff do a rough count, and I'd say we lost 250-300 students this fall who were otherwise academically eligible but didn't have the money to bridge the gap. Ironically, I was in a workshop about emergency financial aid when you called, so Gov. Deal's news would be a great thing for Albany Tech students, again, if the state can afford it. For our students, once they graduate, 94 percent of them are going to move into jobs in-field and become responsible, taxpaying citizens."
Since the HOPE reforms were implemented when Deal took office, there has been a decline in enrollment in the technical school system and in the University System, the governor's office said, adding the state has seen a disproportionate drop in the technical school system. For some students enrolled in the system, the loss of scholarship money put higher education out of reach, the office said, adding that the new bipartisan effort is one way Deal intends to remedy the problem.
"I'm proud to stand here with a bipartisan group of Georgia leaders committed to helping all Georgians attain a higher education degree," Deal said. "I look forward to working on this issue with Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate. In the chambers, of course, I work through my floor leaders, but I'm happy to say they'll be working with Rep. Stacey Evans of Smyrna, who has worked with me on this issue."
The state is able to expand funds for the HOPE Grants because of recent growth in Lottery revenues. In the first six months of this fiscal year, deposits were up $32 million, a 7.6 percent increase over the same period the year before, the governor's office noted.
In addition to the proposed change to the GPA requirement for technical colleges, Deal announced plans to attach language to move higher education funding in Georgia from an enrollment-based formula to an outcomes-based formula, as recommended by the Higher Education Funding Commission.
"Increasing the numbers of grant recipients does no one any good if the student doesn't finish with a degree," Deal said. "Put simply, we need more Georgians with college or technical school degrees in order to attract the jobs of tomorrow to our state."
Deal previously announced that his recommended budget for fiscal year 2014 includes 10 extra days for pre-kindergarten, restoring the full 180-day school year, and a 3 percent increase for HOPE recipients.
The governor said when he took office two years ago the reserve funds for the HOPE and Pre-K programs were on a path to bankruptcy and that because of action by Deal and the General Assembly, including both Republicans and Democrats, the state was able to stabilize Lottery-funded programs. He said programs are being added back as funds allow.