Gov. Deal and a bipartisan group of legislators held a news conference to announce that the threshold for HOPE grants would be returned to a 2.0 grade point average, down from the 3.0 that was set two years ago. Lawmakers raised the requirements to 3.0 after lottery revenues had dipped and concern was raised over the program’s solvency.
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Deal credited the policy change to an increase of $32 million in lottery deposits during the first half of the budget year, compared with fiscal 2012. The change will not affect requirements for HOPE scholarships for four-year colleges.
HOPE grants are available to students working toward a certificate or diploma at an eligible college. Students are not required to be enrolled full-time or graduate from high school with a specific grade point average. However, under the current requirements, they must maintain a 3.0 GPA to keep eligibility. HOPE grants are different from HOPE scholarships, which are awarded to students in degree programs.
District 69 Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, said Friday that he applauds the governor’s move to keep the HOPE program solvent.
“Our technical colleges provide training which leads directly to jobs,” Nix said.
District 18 Rep. Kevin Cooke, R-Carrollton, also favors the change.
“The purpose of the grant was to enable individuals to gain a skill at a technical college and upon the graduation of his or her study/certification, go out and get a job with that new skill,” Cooke said. “The adjustment back to the original GPA requirement allows for the original intent of the grant to be fulfilled.”
District 30 state Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, said he feels the change is something government can do to increase job growth.
“We have people who are unemployed or under-employed and they have the desire and ability to re-enter the workforce to fill the critical shortage of jobs we have in specific areas,” Dugan said. “One of the most obvious ones is welders. We can’t provide enough right now because there’s not enough workers trained and certified. We still have a lot of jobs being advertised that we can’t find anybody to fill because they require certification.”
He said the change will allow a lot of older workers, with families and working a full-time job, a chance to increase their employability.
District 28 state Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, praised the HOPE program for helping defray student costs, but questioned what effect the lowering of grade requirements might have.
“The HOPE program has had many impacts on higher education since its inception,” Crane said. “Many students have used HOPE to help them defer the costs of higher education while investing their efforts to better themselves educationally. It’s also apparent that the billions of dollars redirected into higher education through the lottery/HOPE program has had some negative impacts like grade inflation, lower completion rates and higher overall costs.
“Originally sold to the voters as a way to support outstanding student achievement and retention here in Georgia, it has for many become an entitlement,” he said. “We must clearly understand our goals with any program and then make sure the program is designed to promote those goals. If the goal of HOPE is to make sure as many people as possible can experience higher education at as low a cost to themselves as possible, than lowering the GPA may make sense. But if the goal is to encourage excellence and reward it, then lowering the GPA requirements will have the opposite effect.”
“ I want to thank Gov. Deal and members of the General Assembly for their support of this change to the HOPE grant,” said West Georgia Technical College President Skip Sullivan. “This change will allow many students to complete their program of study, find employment and earn their place in our workforce.”
“I wish to thank Gov. Deal, Lt. Gov. Cagle, Speaker Ralston and the members of the General Assembly for their bipartisan support of this much-needed change to the HOPE grant,” said Ron Jackson, commissioner of technical colleges and schools in Georgia. “We’re hopeful that the legislation will pass since there are thousands of technical college students throughout Georgia who stand to benefit by returning the grant requirement to a 2.0 grade point average. Many are non-traditional students who are older and doing their best to support their families while on limited incomes. ... This change to the HOPE grant will enable more deserving students to complete their studies, find good-paying jobs and earn their place in Georgia’s workforce.”
In addition to the action on technical college grants, some Senate Democrats want Deal to again make HOPE scholarships cover full tuition and guarantee scholarships to the top 3 percent of students at Georgia high schools. However, Deal said those measures could expand the program too much and threaten the overall program’s financial viability.
— The Associated Press contributed to this article.