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State grants could help college students with financial needs
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University of North Georgia students have a water fight on the Gainesville campus lawn Friday, April 6, 2018. Lawmakers handed a landmark win to Georgia’s future college students. In House Bill 787, lawmakers authorized a new grant for college students that gives weight to financial need if the governor approves. - photo by Scott Rogers

A new grant for college students that gives weight to “need” for financial assistance passed the Georgia General Assembly last month, something the numbers suggest could benefit enrollees at the University of North Georgia.

Kate Maine, UNG’s chief of staff, said that although details about the full impact of the grants are still being understood, “a need-based aid program would be very beneficial to many students.”

The legislation, if signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, would allow the Georgia Student Finance Commission to establish a needs-based financial aid program for full-time students in the university system.

The commission could base requirements on student household income, grade point average and other measures, while also varying the amount of aid awarded.

An estimated $25 million to $40 million could be allocated for the program.

HOPE scholarships and grants have made college affordable for many Georgia students based strictly on academic-based criteria. Nearly 112,000 students across the state, however, deal with unmet financial need, according to the University System of Georgia.

Just half of low-income high school graduates in Georgia go to college, according to state data. According to the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, family median income for students who apply for financial aid in the university system is about $40,000. Students who take on debt borrow an average of $7,800 in loans per year.

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University of North Georgia student Ixcel Ortiz walks through the school's Gainesville campus Friday, April 6, 2018. Lawmakers handed a landmark win to Georgia’s future college students. Lawmakers authorized a new grant for college students that gives weight to financial need. If the governor approves, the Georgia Student Finance Commission will establish a needs-based financial aid program for full-time students in the university system, subject to future appropriations. - photo by Scott Rogers
“While we have many students on the HOPE scholarship and UNG is recognized nationally for its affordability, we know we have many students who still have unmet financial need,” Maine said. “This sometimes results in promising students stopping-out or not completing college.”

Georgia and New Hampshire are the only two states that don’t offer publicly funded need-based financial aid to college students.

At UNG, 28 percent of 18,782 enrolled students across five campuses receive federal Pell grants based on need.

And according to the university, among 12,440 full-time undergraduates, 9,951 applied for needs-based financial aid in the 2017-18 academic year; 8,147 were determined to have a need for financial aid; and 7,672 actually received aid.

For the last full academic year, students at UNG received $29.6 million in total need-based aid, mostly through federal subsidies, while students took need-based loans totaling $17.2 million.

UNG awarded nearly $500,000 in need-based aid to its students.

Maine said UNG has prioritized increased donor support of student scholarships over the past five years to help fill these gaps.

“This new program presents an opportunity for many talented, hard-working students to stay on-course and help them complete college in a timely manner,” she added.

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