More jobs these days require some kind of college education. The rising cost of higher education stands between a lot of Georgians and their diplomas.
The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute has issued some recommendations to make college more affordable and accessible.
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The first suggestion is an idea lawmakers and education advocates have been talking about for years: creating a needs-based financial aid program.
That means students could qualify for aid based on family income, unlike Georgia’s HOPE program, which requires good grades and test scores.
GBPI higher education policy analyst Jennifer Lee authored the report. She said there’s been an increasing demand for a needs-based aid program since the recession began.
“… as college tuition is going up, as the state budget has been investing less money per student in higher education, and as students are needing these college credentials more and more for jobs … it’s getting to a point where lawmakers, I think on both sides, are recognizing that this is really a big gap that Georgia needs to address,” Lee said.
Those “college credentials” include four-year degrees, two-year associate’s degrees and technical and certificate programs. Of course, all of those programs come with tuition and fees.
To qualify for HOPE, students have to begin post-secondary programs within seven years of graduating from high school. Lee said eliminating that rule would help a lot of people.
“In our technical colleges, 44 percent of our associate’s degree students are over the age of 25,” she said.
Technical college students who qualify for the HOPE career grant can receive free tuition. But Lee said they often have other expenses they need help covering.
“Filling in those tuition gaps for technical college students certainly helps,” Lee said. “It wouldn’t be a large lift for the state. It would be a relatively small expense.”
She noted the state already fills in those gaps for students studying high-demand fields.
The report also suggests creating a statewide college work-study program, and converting student access loans to completion grants.
Lawmakers know to produce qualified workers, Georgia needs more students completing degree programs. That’s why they considered legalizing casino gambling to create another funding source for public colleges. Right now, Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia and Georgia State University all have their own needs-based scholarships.
State Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, chairs the Senate’s higher education committee. At a media symposium hosted by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education last week, Millar said he’s looking for a funding source to launch a needs-based financial aid program. He said the state needs to do what it can to help students cross the finish line.
“If my memory serves, 26 percent of our families in this state make less than $30,000 dollars [a year],” Millar said. “Well, good luck to them being able to put much money toward their child’s education. To me, that’s a tragedy.”