State lawmakers are considering a bill that would create Georgia’s first college scholarship program based on financial need. Currently, Georgia and New Hampshire are the only two states that don’t have such a program.
Georgia’s lottery-funded HOPE program, first awarded in 1993, is merit-based. That means students have to meet certain academic requirements to receive scholarships and grants. Lawmakers tightened the standards in 2011 for the HOPE scholarship to keep the program solvent. Despite record profits, the lottery couldn’t keep up with massive demand for the program.
The proposed need-based program would have minimal academic requirements. It would also be limited to students from families who earn $48,000 a year or less.
State Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, says Georgia badly needs this kind of program.
“The No. 1 reason people do not continue their education through college or technical fields is because they can’t afford it, not because they can’t understand the lesson, not because they’re not academically qualified,” Jackson says.
State leaders have realized if they want to strengthen Georgia’s workforce, they have to make sure college is available to more people. That’s why this idea has bipartisan support. State Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, chairs the Senate’s higher education committee. He’s been pushing for a need-based college scholarship for years.
“We need to try to go out and get first-generations and families and get them involved in post-secondary education … and … we have people whose skills are no longer relevant,” Millar said in an interview last year. “We need to retrain those folks.”
There’s one big hurdle: the program doesn’t have a funding source yet.
Millar has insisted it won’t come from any future casinos the Legislature might approve. Jackson isn’t ruling it out. He wants to pass the scholarship bill now and find funding for it next year.
The state Senate has already approved the legislation. The House’s higher education committee will hear the bill next week.