Proposed increase for HOPE Scholarship would help Augusta students

 

College life changed for Courtney Barber two years ago when the amount she received from Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship dropped. For the first time, she took out student loans and started working 20 hours a week.

Her parents couldn’t help make up the difference in financial assistance. She was forced to study later at night because of her work and class schedules.

“Everything just changed,” said Barber, a junior at Georgia Regents University.

In 2011, Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill that reduced HOPE from full coverage to 90 percent of the tuition rates in an effort to sustain the program. Fees and books were also dropped from the program.

Deal announced this week that he is proposing a boost for Georgia’s lottery-funded education programs because of higher lottery revenues. The proposal includes a 3 percent increase for the HOPE Scholarship.

The prospect of more assistance eased Barber’s worries about student debt and brought a smile to her face Friday.

“That’s the whole point of HOPE – to not have students in debt when they graduate,” she said.

Barber is entering a program to become a dental hygienist. which means two more years of undergraduate education.

Deal also wants to restore the full 180-day calendar for pre-kindergarten programs that was cut to 160 days two years ago. Ten days were added back last year.

According to a statement from the governor’s office, the Georgia Lottery Corp. reported $55.2 million more profits in fiscal year 2012 than the previous year. The first quarter of fiscal 2013 was up 8 percent from the same period last year.

“The strong performance of the Georgia Lottery combined with the critical reforms we made to HOPE and (pre-K) two years ago have stabilized these programs that are so important to Georgians,” Deal said in an e-mailed statement.

The 3 percent increase for HOPE would cost $13.9 million. Under the plan, pre-K teachers would get a raise because of the longer school year.

Georgia Regents University junior Kenneth Holley said the increase in HOPE money would provide much-needed relief. When cuts were imposed in 2011, he started working as a student manager in the Jaguar Student Activities Center to help with rent and groceries. For tuition and expenses, he needed loans that now amount to $17,000.

“After school, it would help with paying back the loans. They add up pretty quickly,” he said. “It would help with starting a career and not having debt to start out with me.”

Deal will push for the HOPE increases during the 40-day Georgia legislative session, which begins Monday.

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