Georgia lawmakers consider new financial aid program for struggling students

Georgia is considering state-funded completion grants for students nearing graduation. More funding is good news for struggling students, even though it’s only available to students who are close to the college finish line.

A new Georgia bill would provide grants of up to $2,500 to students who are about to graduate but need a little extra funding to get started. The scholarships would be offered to students who have obtained 80% of the credits required for their degrees.

Georgia House Bill 1435 passed by a vote of 171 to 3 and is currently being considered by the Georgia Senate.

What are completion scholarships?

Completion scholarships for students close to graduation have been piloted by various institutions over the past ten years, including Georgia State. A 2016 survey showed that a third of institutions had some form of completion scholarship program.

The state of Georgia has claimed their completion scholarships helped students graduate. However, a rigorous study completion scholarships offered at 11 different institutions found no evidence that the scholarships helped students graduate at higher rates than students who did not receive additional funds. While additional funding for higher education is vitally important, the lack of evidence of the effectiveness of completion scholarship programs might indicate that an alternative, such as need-based financial aid funding, would be a more efficient use of funds.

Need-based financial aid might be a better approach

Georgia does not have a need-based state aid program, one of only two states without a grant program that awards funds based on a family’s income and assets for students. Georgia lawmakers created a need-based grant in 2018, but it exists only in name – no funding was provided for the program.

The majority of state aid for Georgian students comes from the Georgia Hope Scholarship. This merit-based award has been criticized for offer more support to wealthy people students than those from low-income families. A completion scholarship program could partially compensate for the lack of funding given to students with fewer financial resources earlier in their studies, but does not adequately replace a strong need-based aid program.

Many students start running out of financial aid upon graduation, with Pell grants often running out before graduation. Students eligible for the Hope Scholarship may also lose their eligibility if their grades are not high enough. One of the goals of this new program is to help students complete their studies if they have no other funding options.

New program but no new funding

The proposed grant, while welcome, does not allocate new funds for higher education. The funds will be reallocated from the state student loan program. It also covers only a fraction of the total student needs. The legislation will allocate $10 million a year to the new program, with the funds going to students who have a gap between their other financial aid and tuition.

Providing additional funding for higher education will always be accepted by students and families who need additional support to cover university expenses. It may be more beneficial for these Georgia students to establish a need-based financial aid program, ensuring students in need receive additional financial support from day one.

Investing in students only to have them fail due to the need for a small amount of additional funds is undoubtedly counterproductive and a waste of state and federal dollars. Although it may not be the most effective approach, we hope that providing students with the money they need to reach the finish line will help struggling Georgian students complete their studies.

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