CUMMING -- Some financial relief could be in store for high-achieving students who attend Georgia's technical colleges.
Though a lengthy battle still looms, House Bill 697 has passed out of committee and could come up for a vote soon in the House of Representatives.
The measure would designate a Zell Miller Grant Scholar, a student in a technical college earning a grade-point average of at least a 3.5. Such students could receive the difference between what the HOPE scholarship is paying toward their current academic year and full tuition.
District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon, vice chairman of the House Education Committee, said he's in favor of the measure.
"Policy-wise, our technical college system is doing really, really well,” said Dudgeon, a Republican from south Forsyth. “If you look at the job placement rate from technical colleges, it's really good. And we have a lot of these tech jobs that are out there for those kinds of students who get those degrees."
The grant follows something similar that was added last year to help high-achieving students in four-year universities after a 2011 overhaul cut HOPE funding for those with lower grade-point averages.
"When we came up with the Zell Miller Scholarship, it was on the university side that gives you a full tuition if you get a 3.7 GPA," Dudgeon said. "This is providing a Zell Miller option on the technical college side."
The difference, he said, is the university scholarship is awarded before students begin college. The technical college grant would "give you the money after the fact … you have to prove yourself."
Ray Perren, president of Lanier Technical College said school officials are watching the bill with great interest.
"We believe the creation … will benefit students in a number of ways,” he said. “Under the provisions of this bill, the HOPE Grant would cover 100 percent of the tuition of diploma and certificate students with a 3.5 GPA or better. This certainly helps make college more affordable, plus provides another incentive for students to strive for excellence in the classroom.”
Perren said about 650 Lanier Tech students, including many who attend the college's Forsyth campus, would immediately benefit from the grant.
The measure comes at a good time, as there is more emphasis on career pathways in kindergarten-12thgrade education, said Ann Crow, a member of the Forsyth County Board of Education.
"We have students that may be getting college degrees, but it doesn't translate to the work force. Where in most cases with technical schools, that's not the case, it does translate to a job," Crow said.
Crow said even with cutbacks in recent years, Georgia's students are "so lucky to have HOPE."
"When you think of all the students who are getting an education and that all they've had to do is their part — which is keep their grades up — it's a win for everybody," she said. "Technical schools are an important part of our education system and for students that can keep a 3.5 GPA, they should be able to get a scholarship to technical schools."
Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Buster Evans said the measure would help align career opportunities with the training available to students.
"It does not penalize them because they have pursued technical college," he said.