Those of us who studied on the HOPE scholarship’s dime are familiar with a thought that goes through many college students’ minds as they enroll in courses or choose a major: If I take this, can I keep my 3.0?
HOPE might not cover full tuition anymore, but there are still thousands of dollars at stake for remaining eligible for it. From a short-term financial perspective, it’s a no-brainer between taking an easy-A course or risking a C in a harder one. Without casting aspersions on anyone’s degree, it’s noteworthy that Georgia’s public colleges last year graduated twice as many English majors (764) as chemists (369).
Yet, taking a longer view — or the state’s perspective — the harder courses may lead to jobs that are more plentiful, and higher-paying, as we move deeper into the 21st century. It seems counterproductive to help students attend college, only to give them a perverse incentive to avoid the classes and majors that will give them an edge in the job market. That goes double for students from low-income families, who are more likely to drop out if they lose HOPE.
Some of those concerns could be allayed if legislators pass a bill to be introduced this week by Rep. Jan Jones. The Milton Republican, and No. 2 leader in the House, wants to give students the same half-point boost to their GPAs for taking tough college courses that they get for taking advanced classes in high school. That works out to 3.5 points instead of 3 for a B, 2.5 instead of 2 for a C, and 1.5 instead of 1 for a D. (There would be no change for A’s or F’s.)
“We have a history of encouraging rigor in HOPE,” says Jones, noting the state in the past added similar bonuses for high schoolers who take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or college classes. “Certainly in recent years, we’ve continued to refine HOPE. When you recognize you only have so many resources, how (can HOPE) best meet the workforce development needs and individuals’ needs?”
The bill would direct the Board of Regents to identify specific courses in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics that are “academically rigorous and required for or leading to employment in high demand fields in Georgia.” That last part about “in Georgia” is key: Our state will need to fill an estimated 161,988 jobs in health care, computing and engineering over the next 10 years. Classes that lead to such jobs would qualify, beginning in the 2017-18 school year.
“You can still go into any field,” says Jones, “but there is a message that the state is prioritizing … classes for which a job awaits.”
She adds that she wrote the bill to target courses, rather than majors, to broaden its reach: “Maybe if you take a few of these (while majoring in a different field), it inspires you after you graduate to go on” and pursue a job or graduate degree in that field.
As growing companies look for places to expand or relocate, Jones says the change would also be “another tool in our toolbox, that we are actively creating a prepared work force” in the skills employers seek.
And that is one of the best hopes for Georgia’s economy.