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Bill would lower HOPE Grant GPA requirement
HOPE Scholarship would retain 3.0 standard
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Gov. Nathan Deal backs a bill that will lower the requirements for the HOPE Grant for technical college students to a 2.0 GPA from 3.0.

The requirement for the grant had been 2.0 until state leaders raised it amid budget concerns as Deal first took office in 2011. The change is expected to cost between $5 million and $8 million in the 2014 fiscal year budget, and the state will use the recent growth in lottery revenues to pay for it.

“I believe that this additional benefit will help Georgia families that are trying to get ahead and will contribute to our workforce development,” Deal said at Thursday’s press conference.

Raising the GPA requirement meant fewer students were eligible for the Hope Grant, and many dropped out of technical schools. The state of Georgia saw a decline of 28.6 percent, which is nearly 43,000 students.

State Rep. Carl Rogers, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee, said he was concerned about the impact of the law change.

“It’s had an adverse effect on the technical colleges,” said Rogers, R-Gainesville. “The reason it had dropped was people out of work couldn’t afford to go to school and changing it from a “C” to a “B” had a huge effect on it. It had a huge effect on Lanier Tech as well.”

Lanier Technical College saw a drop of more than 33 percent in HOPE Grant recipient enrollment across its five campuses, Rogers said.

About 9,000 students lost the grant last year, said Dave Parrish, director of marketing and public relations for Lanier Tech. This will help them come back, he said.

“This will allow many to come back to school and become highly skilled and move into the Georgia workforce,” Parrish said. “It will help Georgia students take their careers to the next level, and all that is good for Georgia.”

The bill Deal supports was introduced by Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, and is in the House HOPE subcommittee.

Deal made the Thursday announcement with several top state lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, House Speaker David Ralston and House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, and several House Democrats and Republicans.

“Education is not a partisan issue,” Rogers said.

The governor’s office reported lottery revenues, which fund the grant, were up $32 million in the first six months of this fiscal year, a 7.6 percent increase over the same period the year before. Deal also announced that funding for colleges will change in the 2014 fiscal year from enrollment-based to outcome-based, 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.”

That means schools who keep students on track and finishing sooner will be rewarded, Rogers said.

Changes are not being implemented at this time for the HOPE Scholarship, which affects students in the University System of Georgia and requires a 3.0 GPA.

Evans, a HOPE Scholarship recipient, said that the grant is the workforce development piece of the program. Many technical college students are older, are typically already working part time and may have families.

“They’re vital to our workforce, and we’ve got to make sure that we keep financial aid available for them,” she said.