The four people vying to become the next chairman of Georgia’s Democratic Party spent most of their time at a recent forum discussing ways to help get candidates elected, but one of them said something about education that made us quite curious.
"Look at our technical schools now. We had the best in the world. And (Republicans) ruined that by what they did with the HOPE Grant to try to fix it a little bit the last time. There are half as many students in the Heart of Georgia in technical colleges than there were two years ago," said DuBose Porter, a former state representative who ran for governor in 2010.
PolitiFact Georgia was a little confused. Porter, the chief executive officer of The Courier-Herald newspaper in Dublin, explained.
In July 2011, two Middle Georgia colleges, Sandersville Technical College and Heart of Georgia Technical College, merged to create Oconee Fall Line Technical College. The Heart of Georgia is located in Dublin and is now called Oconee’s South campus. Sandersville is called Oconee’s North campus. Porter told us that he was referring to the drop in enrollment at the new college after the changes to the HOPE program.
With that clarity, we wanted to find out whether Porter was correct about the drop in enrollment.
In 2011, state lawmakers raised the academic requirements for the Georgia Lottery-funded HOPE Grant program, which helps students attend state colleges. Students needed to have a 3.0 grade-point average instead of the previous requirement of a 2.0. The change was made in response to concerns that the HOPE Grant and Scholarship programs were in financial peril.
In response to blistering criticism that enrollment at technical colleges declined greatly after the change, the Georgia Legislature passed bills earlier this year to go back to the 2.0 grade-point average requirement. Nearly 9,000 students lost the grant in 2012 because they couldn't meet the higher standard, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Porter sent us a September 2011 article reported by his newspaper that Oconee’s enrollment had fallen by 1,000 students, from about 2,800 students to about 1,800 students. That’s a decrease of about 36 percent.
The Technical College System of Georgia sent us figures for the enrollment drop after the merger. They show a 37 percent decrease for the two campuses after the HOPE Grant requirement was changed. It’s a 41 percent decrease if you calculate the changes before the HOPE change and two years afterward.
Here’s their breakdown:
The state broke down the numbers for each campus before and after the merger. The state’s data for the Dublin campus were similar to the information Porter sent us. Regardless, neither set of numbers shows a 50 percent decrease.
The state’s data suggest the HOPE changes may have had an impact on enrollment. In fiscal year 2011, nearly 82 percent of Oconee students had received a HOPE grant. In fiscal year 2012, it was 71 percent. Preliminary figures for fiscal year 2013 show 61 percent of Oconee students received a HOPE grant.
"They lost a lot of students who could no longer go to college," said Mike Light, a spokesman for the Technical College System of Georgia.
To sum up, Porter said at a forum that enrollment at the Oconee Fall Line Technical College had dropped in half. The enrollment declines were severe, but not a 50 percent drop. The data show a decline in the percentage of Oconee students who received a HOPE Grant, which seems to support Porter’s argument.
Porter’s overall point has merit, but his claim was somewhat overstated. Our rating: Mostly True.