Karl Douglass: Win-win for Georgia

April 28, 2013 

It is getting tougher and tougher for students to afford an education beyond high school. Costs have risen to a point that many parents cannot pay tuition for their children. Student loans are less attractive these days because borrowers are saddled with so much debt at graduation.

Affordable access to education is essential to the pursuit of the American Dream. Everyone agrees that we cannot let quality education become a luxury available only to the privileged few.

The ideal of affordable access to education was strengthened Wednesday when Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 372 into law. The new law makes HOPE grants more accessible by returning the GPA requirement to 2.0 from 3.0. Estimates are that several thousand students who were enrolled in one of the state's technical college dropped out when the GPA requirement was raised to 3.0 in 2011 because they no longer qualified to receive the HOPE grant.

Before you rush to judge this change as an example of "the soft bigotry of low expectations," consider who uses the HOPE grant. Many HOPE recipients are adult students who need to learn a new skill because the factory shut down or their department was downsized. They are often working part time to make ends meet and raising kids while also attending classes to earn a certificate as a nurse aide or learn how to repair AC systems. Many times, they have not seen the inside of a classroom since receiving their high school diplomas and would not be attending school but for the need to train for a new career and the availability of the HOPE grant.

Returning the GPA for the HOPE grant to 2.0 is not a suggestion that the typical technical college student is less capable than students in Georgia's four-year colleges. Rather, it is a recognition that many technical college students are at a different stage in life from the 18-year-old who has graduated high school and is heading straight to college. It is true that all of these students are pursuing an education to better their prospects for the future. However, there are documented differences in the circumstances under which the average technical college student and the average four-year college student make that pursuit. And those differences should be recognized.

At a time when it is harder for any student to afford an education, the governor and General Assembly should be applauded for taking action to make the state's technical colleges more affordable to more people. The education these students receive will not just benefit them; it will make our state stronger. When Georgia is stronger, we all win.

Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.

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