Georgia’s four-year colleges and research universities get a lot of well-deserved attention, but when it comes to preparing students for the workplace, the state’s Technical College System is the vital link between the classroom and the workplace.
More than 20 technical colleges work closely with leaders in every community as they revamp curriculum to meet the needs of local business and industry, especially in growth industries like healthcare and movie production.
But the need persists. When a 2015 report documented that 113 of Georgia’s 159 counties faced a shortage of primary care professionals, the technical colleges responded quickly and effectively. There are currently 13 nursing programs around the system.
It’s no coincidence that three of the six major HOPE programs focus on financial aid to technical college students.
But the “reforms” of 2011 –– which increased the technical college grade-point-average requirements to match those of four-year-degree colleges –– nearly devastated the technical college program. Enrollment dropped from 141,887 to 67,090 within four years.
At the time of the 2011 cuts, according to Rep. Stacey Evan, D-Smyrna, the average Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) student was a white, 28-year-old mother from rural Georgia, coming from a household income of roughly $20,000 to $40,000 a year. When these students had to pay the higher out-of-pocket expenses, they had to leave the system.
Those students represent “a large chuck of our potential working economy,” Evans said. “Without them in our technical colleges we are seeing the growth of a skills gap between available jobs and those qualified to fill them.”
Since the 2011 reforms, the GPA requirement has been readjusted to qualify more participants for the scholarship and grant programs for the technical colleges and the Strategic Industries Workforce Development grants.
The popularity of the scholarship and grants for the technical colleges demonstrates a need in the marketplace for practical education that leads to employment. But history has also revealed how close to the financial margin these students are. Any demise in HOPE support has and will continue to have an immediate effect on students’ ability to go to technical colleges. This is a risk the Georgia economy cannot afford.