ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — More than 11,000 Georgians lost HOPE grants to attend state technical colleges when the state Legislature imposed tougher academic requirements in 2011, and more than half have not re-enrolled in school as of this fall, according to Technical College System of Georgia statistics.
As a way of curbing the costs of the lottery-funded HOPE program, state lawmakers in 2011 raised the minimum GPA students had to keep in their first year from 2.0 to 3.0.
As a result of the cost-saving measure, 11,471 students in the system's 24 technical colleges lost their HOPE grants.
Last year, with lottery revenues up, Gov. Nathan Deal and lawmakers reversed field, restoring the minimum GPA to 2.0 for students this fall.
Of the 11,471 people who lost their HOPE grants last year, 3,286 have their grants renewed and are enrolled this fall in Georgia public technical colleges, system officials have announced.
About one in five, or 2,341, who lost the grants last year stayed enrolled and have graduated from their programs.
That leaves 5,844, or 51 percent, who did not graduate and are not enrolled, according to the technical college system's count.
At Athens Technical College, 543 students lost their HOPE Grants because of the 3.0 requirement; 156 of them are registered for school this fall, said Andrea Daniel, Athens Technical College's vice president for student affairs.
"A lot of people are in need of this financial assistance because they either lost their jobs or could not find better employment. The people coming back (after regaining HOPE eligibility) are people who basically had to quit college because they couldn't afford it," said Mike Light, the system's executive director of communications.
The change to 2.0 won't lessen the overall quality of graduates, he said.
"We always say we guarantee our education," Light said.
The system will retrain a worker for free if an employer complains, and last year, employers called in that guarantee just 33 times out of about 35,000 graduates, Light said.
Technical college system administrators believe the change in HOPE grant eligibility is one of the main reasons for declining enrollment.
Meanwhile, the number of graduates the technical college system produced has also dropped as enrollment declines.
The system turned out 28,278 graduates in the 2013 academic year, down from a peak of 35,579 in 2011 and the lowest total since at least 2008, according to figures compiled by the technical college system.
During those same two years, HOPE funds flowing into the technical college system declined from $211 million in 2011 to $74.1 million in 2013, partly as a result of changes in HOPE eligibility, partly because of declining enrollment.
And the change in the HOPE GPA requirement wasn't the only step legislators took to cut back HOPE expenditures and shift more of the cost of college to students.
The Legislature has also cut the value of the grant, which no longer covers the cost of books or fees. Some classes of people are no longer eligible, such as those who have been laid off from work but already have a college education.
State appropriations have also declined. Even as state lawmakers ask the system to turn out more trained workers, the Legislature and Deal have cut funding for the system by $3 million, about 18 percent, since 2008.
As the state pays less, students are paying more.
The appointed board that governs the technical college system has also steadily raised tuition costs over the past decade. Students now pay about 43 percent of the cost of their education through tuition and fees, while the state contributes 48 percent. Federal money covers about 9 percent of the technical college system budget. In 2002, the state paid 62 percent, students paid 24 percent and federal sources covered 14 percent.
Locally, Athens Technical College enrollment jumped from 6,009 in 2007 to 8,322 in 2011, and technical colleges statewide saw similar big enrollment increases. But enrollment dropped after 2011 at Athens Tech and statewide.
Statewide, technical college enrollment rose to 119,146 in fall 2010, but now has declined for three straight years. This fall's enrollment is 97,612, Light said.