Like many other aspects of state spending, education has taken a hit as economic hardships have forced state officials to take steps to cut costs to enable Georgia to maintain its constitutionally mandated balanced budget.
Last week, however, some post-secondary students got good news when Gov. Nathan Deal announced that he was recommending that the grade-point average for technical college students who qualify for HOPE scholarship grants be reduced from 3.0 on a scale of 0-4 to 2.0. That was the minimum GPA that technical college students originally had to meet to qualify for HOPE, but the state raised the standard when funding became strained. The change is expected to cost the state $5 million-$8 million.
That announcement came on the heels of the governor’s announcements that he wants HOPE recipients to receive a 3 percent increase in funding and for pre-kindergartners to add back 10 days that have been cut from their school year, returning them to a 180-day school year.
Deal’s office said that the state is able to add these spending items because the Georgia Lottery, which funds the programs with a percentage of revenues from game ticket sales, is seeing improved sales. In the first six months of Fiscal Year 2013, which began July 1, the lottery has seen a 7.6 percent jump in ticket sales over the first half of FY 2012. That has added $32 million more to the program’s balance sheet.
“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,” Deal said, adding state leaders believe “this will provide greater access to school — and access to a brighter career — at a relatively small cost to the state.”
According to Albany Technical College President Anthony Parker, the relaxed HOPE standard may be a financial shot in the arm for 250-300 students who are academically eligible but unable to find the money needed for tuition. Albany Tech is one of Albany’s success stories, working with local businesses to provide employees with the skills they need, and students who make it through graduation have an excellent chance at gaining employment. Albany Tech boasts a 94 percent success rate of its graduates moving into jobs in their chosen fields.
The 2.0 standard may seem low, but, as Parker pointed out last week, many technical college students have a period in which they learn to study. During that time, a student’s grades can drop below the 3.0 mark, kicking the student out of the HOPE program just when he or she is turning the corner academically. If relaxing the standard gives these students a better chance to stay in school and succeed, then everyone wins. The funds do what they’re intended to do, the student and the student’s family benefit from better income, and society benefits from having another taxpaying citizen.
After several years of cuts in educational spending, it’s good to see that state leadership is serious about increasing funding in areas that can make a difference when the opportunity arises.