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$900 Mil Awarded for Education Spending

In his January State of the State address, Gov. Nathan Deal proposed a three percent increase in funding to the HOPE Scholarship, which helps cover the cost of college tuition for eligible Georgia students.

The Georgia Lottery saw a significant increase in revenue in 2012. According to a June news release, Georgia Lottery Corp. raised more than $900 million for education spending in fiscal year 2012, the most successful in the lottery’s 20- year history.

Deal and the Georgia Legislature cut HOPE spending in 2011 to preserve funding for the scholarship. HOPE revenue had dwindled amid rising tuition prices, an increase in student enrollment and a decrease in Georgia Lottery revenue.

The cuts to the scholarship reduced funding to cover 90 percent rather than 100 percent of university tuition while  eliminating money awarded for books and fees. The Legislature also raised the GPA requirement for graduating high school students hoping to receive the scholarship in college.

Many of the new proposals the Legislature is considering this year are geared toward students attending Georgia’s technical schools. One proposal, introduced by Senate Democrats, suggests lowering the GPA requirements of the HOPE Grant to the previous level of 2.0 for technical schools.

Georgia’s technical colleges have seen a recent decrease in enrollment due to the increased eligibility standards of the HOPE Grant said Deborah Floyd, financial aid specialist at Chattahoochee Technical College.

Floyd said her school saw enrollment decline by nearly 3,000 students over several semesters but that enrollment is projected to turn around with the proposed increases to  scholarship funding.

“We’ll probably get a lot more students,” she said.

Floyd said the president of Chattahoochee Tech announced the proposed changes to the academic requirements at a meeting earlier in the week.

“We were saying that the academic requirement should be higher,” she said. “2.0 is a C, but I suppose as long as they’re passing and trying their best it’s fine.”

The lowered academic requirements will apply only to students receiving the HOPE Grant and will not affect Kennesaw State students receiving the HOPE Scholarship.

Sarah Baumhoff, associate director for Kennesaw State’s Office of Student Financial Aid, hopes the proposed increase in scholarship funding will help more KSU students pay for college.

Baumhoff said 80 percent of KSU students receive some type of financial aid, which consists of student loans, the HOPE Scholarship and Pell Grants. The majority of KSU students must take out student loans to fund their college education.

Lanesha Moore, a junior studying sociology at KSU, says that she did not qualify for the HOPE Scholarship when she graduated from Wheeler in 2010.

“It was stressful to come up with the funding for tuition,” Moore said. “I was given an ultimatum between going to school and staying at home and working.”

Moore received the HOPE Scholarship her sophomore year.

“It pays for almost everything,” Moore said. “I have come out of pocket about $300 every semester for tuition but I’ve taken out student loans to cover it.”

“The average Kennesaw State student graduates with somewhere between $18,000 and $19,000 in debt,” Baumhoff  said.

This debt is below the national average, which, according to The Project on Student Debt, was about $26,500 for the graduating class of 2011.

“The Pell Grant hasn’t gone up for three years and part of that is because of the spending cuts,” Baumhoff said. “Another proposal that is being talked about is doing away with subsidized loans altogether.”

At this point all of the proposals made by the governor and Legislature are tentative.

“That will be up to the General Assembly, whether they pass his budget or not,” Baumhoff said. “They usually get the budget passed sometime in April, so we’ll just have to wait and watch and see. We would love for him to increase it and we’d love for it to benefit our students, but until we see what they do with that we don’t know for sure.”