ATLANTA -- A bill in the Georgia legislature would expand Georgia HOPE grants to pay 100% of tuition for students at Georgia's technical colleges.
Backers of House Bill 22 call the measure a "game changer."
Under the current formula, about 70% of tuition is covered for in-state students who qualify.
Representative Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna), the author of the bill, said the proposed expansion, to cover 100% of tuition, would cost the Georgia Lottery, which funds HOPE grants, $21 million extra per year. She points out that the lottery is growing by an annual amount of more than $60 million.
Legislators say there is not enough money in the Lottery for Education program to pay for full tuition, any more, at all of Georgia's colleges and universities. But Evans says there is more than enough to cover the tab at the technical colleges. And both Democrats and Republicans support the bill.
"It's a game changer for both families and for our business community," Rep. Evans said Monday, "[it would] help these families and these students who are looking to get to the middle class, and help our business community that needs a skilled workforce, now more than ever."
House Bill 22 addresses bigger problems than personal funding. For example, the average age for a transportation tradesman in Georgia is 43. For every four people who leave a skilled trade, only one is trained to take their place. Skilled trade workers are aging out, leaving behind a gap between the jobs available and the skills new workers have.
In 2012, Governor Nathan Deal drew national attention to the skills gap when he launched the Go Build campaign. Months later, a Manpower study cited 39% of Metro Atlanta employers said they had difficulty filling open positions because of inability to find skilled workers. The Georgia Department of Education launched the Global Workforce Initiative which brings together private companies and high school students to bring skills into the classroom.
"The skills gap in Georgia -- we've got jobs that are left unfilled, and we've got Georgians who are unemployed, but unfortunately the skills of the unemployed don't match the skills needed for the jobs," Rep. Evans said. "And a lot of those jobs require skills that you gain at a technical college. But access to technical college is sometimes a struggle, because students who attend our technical colleges are the most price-sensitive in higher education," coming from households earning, on average, less than $40,000 a year.
The gap between what HOPE grants currently pay and the actual cost of tuition at the state technical colleges can total hundreds of dollars a year per student.
"That is the difference between a student being able to stay in school, and having to leave," Rep. Evans said.
So, the age-old struggle that students face, paying for tuition, books and fees -- often working two and three jobs to cover what scholarships and grants don't pay -- may soon get a bit easier for students at the state's technical colleges.
"That is going to be really, really wonderful," said Praise Chikezie, a student at Chattahoochee Technical College in Marietta. "It's going to change everything, because I don't have to worry about tuition, I just have to worry about my housing and my books. So that's going to be really, really nice," encouraging more Georgians to attend technical colleges, and providing a bigger, qualified work force for business and industry wanting to locate in Georgia.
That is, if the bill becomes law.
House Bill 22 may come up for a vote in the House by the end of the month. It will then move on to the Senate.