Progressives across the state fought against the changes to the HOPE program and warned of an impending exodus of students unable to afford an education.
Turns out, they were right.
Governor Deal’s tech school and HOPE policies are direct assaults on the well being of Middle and South Georgia because they close-off educational access to the entire region.
For me, this isn’t just about policy or raw numbers. It’s personal. I’m from the hardest-hit area that is quickly and systematically losing access to higher education.
The true impact is just now being felt.
Academic year 2011-2012 was the first year that the Governor’s HOPE cuts were fully felt, most substantially by the HOPE Grant recipients in Middle and South Georgia. Due to the Governor’s new 3.0 GPA requirement, and the out-of-pocket tuition expenses created by the cuts to the Grant, the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) lost 42,860 HOPE Grant recipients. That’s roughly 21 percent of the entire system’s student body– most of which coming from below the gnat line.
There has been some confusion on the part of some of our conservative colleagues regarding the difference between the HOPE Grant and HOPE Scholarship, leaving them with the delusion that somehow the market, or good ole bootstrappin’ can correct this terrible tragedy.
Let’s be clear: the Scholarship serves University students, while the Grant serves Technical College students. They are intended to produce two different outcomes, and serve two different groups of Georgians.
A 2011 audit conducted at the request of Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill (R- Reidsville) shows us just how different the students served by each program are.
For example, 89 percent of HOPE Grant recipients at Central Georgia Technical College — the hardest hit school system — had household income less than $60,000 a year. Only 29 percent of the University of Georgia’s HOPE Scholars household income was less than $60,000 a year.
But, it’s not just a difference in income that makes it intellectually dishonest to conflate HOPE Scholars with their tech-school Grant counterparts. The typical HOPE Grant student is a 28-year-old woman who reports a household income of less than $40,000 a year — hardly the profile of an entitled student looking for a hand out for a mediocre work product as has been alleged, and hardly that of what one would consider a typical college student.
Rather, it seems to be the profile of an adult Georgian who is determined to put their nose to the grindstone, and better equip themselves to compete for the technical jobs that Georgia continues to coax to its shores. But for how long will employers like KIA, Baxter or Caterpillar agree to open operations here if we aren’t able to provide a skilled workforce?
And, while your average tech-school and university student may be different ages and come from different backgrounds, their return on the state’s investments are quite lopsided as well. But probably not in the way you were thinking. Tuition for a semester of technical college is $911, while the same for a four-year university is $4,921. The average technical college graduate makes $37,000 a year, while the average UGA grad makes a whopping $44,000.
So, to put it into the market terms that the Governor’s HOPE-lite proponents seem to love so well, a tech-school graduate makes a 2,000-percent return on their yearly college tuition, while a UGA grad makes a return of 900-percent.
Each one of those 42,860 HOPE Grant recipients that we lost as a result of the changes to HOPE have families. The Georgia Student Finance Commission is projecting that we are going to lose roughly 18,000 more next year. That is 60,000 students and their families whose futures are uncertain at best.
So what has the Governor proposed to stop this massive hemorrhage?
His proposed 3 percent increase to HOPE, and $6.5 million toward HOPE Grant recipients majoring in areas that are of economic interest to the state are drops in the bucket. Both were offset by a collective $40.1 million proposed cut!
But more importantly, it doesn’t address why students were forced to leave.
Twenty percent of the 42,860 former tech school students lost the HOPE Grant because of the new 3.0 GPA requirement, while the remaining 80 percent left because of the out-of-pocket expenses created by tying the award amount to lottery revenues, which was the fundamental factor in the Governor’s reform package.
And due to the dwindling award amounts coming into TCSG, tuition had to be raised 13 percent, which will only exacerbate the initial out of pocket expenses.
Rep. Stacey Evans and Sen. Jason Carter have proposed lowering the GPA requirement to a 2.0 which would stop the exodus while attracting students back thus allow the HOPE Grant to, once again, be used as a tuition control measure.
While this a good first step, it cannot be the last. We have to fully fund the Grant once again. The price sensitivity of technical college students, the return on investment for the state, and the stakes for Middle and South Georgia’s economy are all too high to fumble this.
Once Governor Deal stops playing politics with the lives of Middle and South Georgians in Atlanta and admits these three things, the political will to pay for this will come shortly thereafter.
That may not be far off. The Governor must — if he hasn’t already — realize his re-election is far from locked in without the support of the people he has hurt by stripping them of their access to a technical education. Let’s remind him.
For full disclosure, I serve as Representative Stacey Evans’s (D-Smyrna) Chief of Staff and am from Middle Georgia — Seth Clark.