House Bill 697 creates the Zell Miller Grant Scholar program and provides full tuition for tech college students with a 3.5 grade point average — about 16,000 students of the 151,000 enrolled in the state’s 24 technical colleges. Already, tech students with at least a 2.0 GPA receive a regular HOPE grant covering part of the tuition.
Under the new program, top technical college students will have to earn the 3.5 GPA or better in a quarter or semester before receiving the additional grant money although they will get the regular grant funds in advance as usual. The average tuition cost at technical colleges runs about $900 per semester and the regular HOPE grant pays about $730 of that, according to Georgia School Watch.
The bill zipped through the legislature with bipartisan support, led by Democrat Stacey Evans of Smyrna and Republican Earl Ehrhart of Powder Springs. Backed by Gov. Nathan Deal, the measure got unanimous approval in the Senate and passed the House with two dissenting votes.
Originally, the bill as proposed by Rep. Evans would have provided full tuition for all tech college students earning 2.0 GPA or higher. But the money just isn’t there, according to the governor’s legislative leaders. With its limited application, the bill will cost about $7 million, which will come from the state lottery proceeds.
The bill also would allow taxpayers, using their state income tax returns, to contribute to nonprofit entities set up by the Georgia Student Finance Commission to assistant students with education expenses. The contributions would be distributed equally to the commission’s nonprofits.
Not only do the state’s technical colleges provide needed workers for business and industry, the colleges themselves generate thousands of public and private sector jobs, according to a study by Dr. Jeffrey M. Humphreys, director of the Selig Center for Economic Growth at UGA’s Terry College of Business. He found that for each on-campus job, an off-campus job existed by virtue of college-related spending in 2012.
Nearly 15,000 private and public sector jobs were related to the colleges themselves. That added up to almost $1.2 billion in economic impact across the state for 2012. Humphreys said the state appropriation of $315 million for the technical college system that year supported an enrollment of almost 153,000 students plus generating the local spending and jobs.
The study showed the economic impact of Chattahoochee Tech here in Marietta at $104.7 million with 1,288 college-related jobs. The college was far and away the leader among the 24 technical schools in Georgia. A distant second was Southern Crescent Tech in Griffin at $72 million and 881 college-related jobs.
Now HB 697 is awaiting the signature of Gov. Deal. Exactly why it’s waiting is not clear. The sooner it’s signed, the better for thousands of technical college students. Pick up the pen, governor!