Each year, 20,000 to 30,000 Georgia college students are forced to leave their education behind because of unpaid tuition bills, according to the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia. The amounts owed are small, often less than $1,000
Georgia’s economic future depends on having a skilled workforce that is prepared to fill the jobs that are in-demand. Within the next four years, it is estimated that 60 percent of the jobs in Georgia will require a certificate, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. But currently, only 46 percent of the workforce has these qualifications.
Local community and business leaders are taking notice of this gap in the workforce and want to take action. The Metro Atlanta Chamber recently met to discuss these issues at the “Forum on the Future: Georgia’s Workforce Pipeline, College Affordability and the Impact of Needs-Based Financial Aid.” It concluded that Georgia must provide students with access to affordable in-demand education and training to keep our state’s economic engine running.
Financial worries are the biggest hurdle that keeps students from earning their degree or certification. In 1993, the HOPE Scholarship was created and has helped 1.7 million students go to college. But because of HOPE’s success, demand is now outpacing funding and the HOPE Scholarship is facing a funding gap. Reforms were made in 2011 to keep the program afloat. Now students with a 3.0 grade point average will only receive 71 to 88 percent of tuition costs instead of the original 100 percent. And that doesn’t include fees, housing and the cost of books.
Students have the drive to earn a degree or certification. Businesses across the state need a skilled workforce. The bottom line is clear: Postsecondary programs must be made affordable so all Georgians can prosper. Preserving the HOPE Scholarship program with its huge impact on higher education in Georgia must be a priority for all of us.