Technical college students and aspiring military personnel are among the winners of this year’s legislative session.
Two measures, both still awaiting the governor’s signature, are providing more opportunities and financial assistance to students.
The first is the fiscal year 2014 budget, which was originally expected to cut funding for military scholarships.
The second lowers the grade-point average requirement for technical college students to qualify for the HOPE grant to 2.0 from 3.0. Though Gov. Deal hasn’t signed the legislation yet, it was his proposal.
As for the military scholarships, District 51 state Sen. Steve Gooch said the legislature “fully restored those funds back to the original amount of $1.9 million.”
“That will help pay for a lot of young people to go to the University of North Georgia and then they’ll become second lieutenants in the National Guard or in the U.S. Army, so we’re proud of that,” said Gooch, a Republican from Dahlonega, home of the college’s main campus.
In January, Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University began operating as a single regional institution, the University of North Georgia.
UNG has campuses in Dahlonega and Cumming (University Center | GA 400 off Pilgrim Mill Road) and the former GSC sites in Gainesville and Oconee County.
The consolidation was mandated by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents in January 2012.
“With the merger and expansion there in Forsyth County, I think it’s important for people to know about [the scholarship money],” said Gooch, a North Georgia graduate whose district includes some of northeast Forsyth.
“It’s a great program … that gives them pretty much a full scholarship to the university for four years and then they have to serve in the guard or the U.S. Army for four years as their payback.”
John Luke Whitmire, assistant director of cadet admissions at the UNG, said 42 students each year are selected to receive the four-year scholarship. Had the funding been cut, it “would have been terrible.”
Whitmire, who also serves as a second lieutenant in the Georgia National Guard, was a scholarship recipient when he attended the university.
“If I had not gotten this scholarship, I definitely would not be working here at North Georgia,” he said. “I honestly don’t know where I would be. It was such a great deal and a great opportunity ... I was very fortunate to have received it.”
The university has about 700 students in the corps of cadets and the scholarship has made a huge difference for more than just the program.
“That scholarship provides not only lieutenants into the National Guard, but 42 full-ride educations or degrees for 42 high schoolers,” Whitmire said.
“So [a reduction in scholarship funding] would have hurt the Georgia National Guard, it would have hurt the corps and that’s 42 people that would have struggled.”
The second significant educational measure involves the grade-point average for the HOPE grant for technical college students.
“I believe this additional benefit will help Georgia families trying to get ahead and will boost the state’s ability to attract and fill high-skilled jobs,” Deal said in February when announcing the proposal.
“With an estimated cost between $5 million and $8 million, we believe this will provide greater access to school — and access to a brighter career — at a relatively small cost to the state.”
The legislation essentially restores the grade-point average to where it was two years ago, when it was first raised due to budget constraints.
According to Gooch, the measure continues to show support for the state’s technical schools, which he called “the best assets in the state for job creation and recruitment of industry coming to the state.
“They are so good at getting our students ready for the work force,” he said.
Lanier Technical College, which has a campus off Majors Road in Forsyth, will be one of the schools to benefit from more students having access to the financial assistance.
“The GPA requirement will allow more Georgians to pursue higher education and professional skills training which leads to great careers,” said David Parrish, spokesman for the college.
“A larger educated, skilled work force in our communities attracts more employers, creates new jobs and helps to improve Georgia’s economy.”
James McCoy, president of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, said technical industries, particularly those that require a high skill level, are a valuable asset to the area and help drive work force development.
According to McCoy, the academic change will help “very gifted and thoughtful students who for whatever reason may not have had the GPA that they wanted or needed.”
“One of the things we need to keep in mind is that contrary to popular belief, school systems are actually becoming more challenging in terms of [kindergarten through 12th grade],” McCoy said. “Lowering that GPA requirement may very well open the door to folks that are very bright and very thoughtful but may be challenged in a different way in K-12 than they will be in a trade school.
“It’s not lowering the standard as much as it is opening the door to all kinds of people.”