For years, some education advocates have urged lawmakers to create a needs-based college scholarship program in Georgia. That is, financial aid that’s based on a family’s income level. Georgia’s HOPE scholarship is merit-based, meaning students need to earn certain grades to receive it.
Recently, the Southern Regional Education Board issued a report on college affordability. It showed the rising cost of college tuition hit middle and lower-income families in Georgia hard.
State Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, was struck by the report. Millar, who chairs the Senate’s higher education committee, met with Gov. Nathan Deal, SREB President David Spence, University System of Georgia outgoing Chancellor Hank Huckaby, incoming Chancellor Steve Wrigley and Technical College System President Gretchen Corbin last fall. The group discussed developing a needs-based scholarship program in Georgia, which is now in the works.
Millar said Georgia needs to boost its graduates in science, technology, engineering and math fields to fill the jobs coming to the state.
“We need to fill about 200,000 jobs in the next five years, which will require some type of a credential, whether it’s a plumber, a diesel mechanic, a welder, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree,” he said in an interview in his Senate office.
Students need to have a high school grade point average of 3.0 to qualify for HOPE. They have to sustain a 3.0 average in college to keep the money. A 2005 University System of Georgia study showed 35 percent of HOPE recipients kept the scholarship after their freshman year.
A needs-based scholarship, Millar said, could help students who may not keep a 3.0 all the way through college, but need some help affording tuition and other costs.
“The bottom line is, if we want to continue to be productive, if we want to continue to see Georgia move forward with prosperity, we’re going to have to do this,” he said.
Millar said there will be a “working group” of education advocates and experts studying what Georgia’s colleges are doing well, and where they need help. He says the group will include outside consultants.
“I think it’s very important to have the external look at this, from a credibility standpoint, because people are skeptics,” he said.
Millar said the group will likely report its findings to a joint House and Senate higher education committee in March. He says the group will need to have a plan in place by the fall, so that it can be included in the governor’s budget for FY 2018.
Though there are many details still to be worked out, Millar said there are some promising signs.
“I guess the pièce de résistance is that the Gates Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they’re going to fund it. They’ve put in about $380,000,” he said.
Millar said if the program is successful, it could serve as a model for other states.