HOPE and Higher Education

I’m running to be your Governor to bring back hope that all Georgia students will have the opportunity to access higher education.

HOPE is one of the most important and effective policies ever implemented in the history of our great state. The promise we made to our children was simple, and for many, life-changing: “Get a B, go to college.” It was this promise that allowed me to attend the University of Georgia and become the first college graduate in my family.

Sadly, as the first generation of HOPE scholars’ own children begin to think about college, they can no longer depend on its original promise. In 2011 the legislature voted to cut HOPE in devastating ways. The simple truth is that Governor Deal, the Republicans in the legislature, and anyone who voted with them broke the HOPE promise. These cuts caused thousands to drop out of school because they could no longer afford it.

Prior to 2011, if you had a “B” average, you got to go to 4-year colleges and universities for free. And there was no GPA requirement for the HOPE Grant for technical college. If a Georgia student wanted to go to technical college, they got to go for free. Period.

After the 2011 cuts, a student wishing to attend a 4-year college or university for free had to achieve at least a 3.7 GPA and a 1200 on the SAT, and a student wishing to attend a technical college with even a partial grant had to achieve a 3.0 GPA.

Just one year after the GPA requirement and funding cuts were instituted for technical colleges, roughly 40,000 students left the technical college system—a quarter of the system’s entire student body.

After a two-year fight, legislation I introduced passed that removed the GPA requirement from the HOPE Grant, enabling over 5,500 students to return to technical colleges all across the state. While this legislation made important strides towards returning the HOPE Grant to its pre-2011 status, we are still not providing full tuition as was the original promise, and so thousands of students continue to be priced out of an education.

I introduced legislation in 2014 that would have restored full tuition for all technical college students. A compromise bill was passed that created the Zell Miller Grant and covered full tuition for students with a 3.5 GPA. But this is not good enough, and so I again sponsored legislation in the 2015 and 2016 sessions that would have restored our bargain to students wishing to go to technical school.

Georgia suffers from a middle-skill gap that continues to deter businesses from relocating or expanding in our state. These middle-skill jobs to, among other things, build our plants, service our roads, and maintain our power lines, account for 55 percent of Georgia’s labor market, but only 43 percent of the state’s workers are trained to do them. Much of our failure to train a sufficient middle-skill workforce is due to the cuts to HOPE.

By 2020, 60 percent of all jobs in Georgia will require some level of postsecondary education, ranging from certificate programs to university degrees. Currently, over 80 percent of kids from the top 25 percent in income enter college, while less than half of the bottom 25 percent in income enter college. If we are going to grow the number of college graduates in Georgia to fill the jobs needs of the future, we need more kids from low income backgrounds to graduate from college, and to do so we must prioritize needs based-aid. Unfortunately, needs-based aid was not prioritized when HOPE was cut in 2011. We must do better by our kids and by our state.

HOPE helped make me who I am today. It has been the cause of great pride for our state and it has enabled thousands of Georgians to obtain an education. But the 2011 cuts were unnecessary and they were a mistake. I fought against those cuts in 2011, I spent the last seven years fighting for the kids hurt by those cuts, and I will continue to fight as your Governor to restore HOPE to its original promise.

As your Governor, I will work to make technical college tuition free in this state once again. And I will work to make college more affordable for everyone.

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