(Originally posted in the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute Blog)
by Cedric Johnson
Georgia’s education policies – including the way it awards HOPE scholarships — create barriers to college education for minorities and the poor, says a report released by the Institute for Research on Higher Education (IRHE) at the University of Pennsylvania. “In their current form, Georgia’s higher education policies are likely to perpetuate rather than ameliorate disparities by race, ethnicity and income, making it difficult to raise the education attainment of the state’s population as a whole,” the report concludes.
The findings reinforce a study by GBPI that highlights shortcomings of the HOPE program and serves as another warning to policymakers who have set an ambitious goal for increasing the number of Georgians with postsecondary credentials. Policymakers must address such inequities if they truly want to keep the state from falling behind as more and more employers demand a skilled-and knowledge-based workforce.
By 2020, the state aims to graduate 250,000 additional students with college degrees or certificates.
However, the IRHE report highlights several barriers to reaching this goal and cites a number of areas where Georgia lags behind the nation and neighboring states: high school graduation rates, the percentage of adults 25 and older with at least an associate’s degree, and the number of full-time college freshmen completing a bachelor’s degree within six years. The state’s low marks in these areas are partly due to another problem highlighted in the report, the steady rise in tuition and fees amid declining state investment in higher education over the last decade.
HOPE is a key financial resource for Georgia’s college students. However, the IRHE report notes that most HOPE benefits flow to middle-income students, who likely have other options for funding their education. Consequently, HOPE fails to reduce inequalities in higher education.
A recent GBPI study found that a disproportionate share of HOPE dollars fund students from households with incomes of more than $100,000.Considering Georgia doesn’t provide need-based grants to college students, distributing limited state resources based solely on grades, as HOPE currently does, creates greater barriers to higher education for many lower-income Georgians.
The IRHE report is yet another reminder of the disconcerting realities of Georgia’s counter-productive education policies and highlights the shortcomings lawmakers must address if they want to turn things around. The authors end the report by posing a relevant question:
Are Georgia’s leaders up to the challenge?