Scholarship cuts hurt technical college trucking program

Georgia lawmakers overhauled and reduced award amounts for the popular HOPE scholarships, which has caused enrollment in commercial trucking programs to plummet at a time when there is a driver shortage across the state and country.

Under the old HOPE, students in the Technical College System of Georgia's trucking program paid $408 to earn the certificate. Last fall, the amount students needed to pay rose $1,150 and enrollment dropped by 39% to 411 students. Enrollment could plunge again, college leaders warned in a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. HOPE award payouts could be cut as soon as mid-2013, meaning students will have an even larger out-of-pocket expense.

College officials and trucking managers say it's imperative to produce a steady stream of graduates because Georgia is a logistics hub. The growth of the state's ports and the expansion of warehousing and other industries depends on truck drivers to move the goods.

If enrollment continues to drop, some colleges may eliminate the program, said Josephine Reed-Taylor, deputy commissioner for the Technical College System.

Students cite cost and the length of the program for why they decided not to enroll or dropped out, she said. Officials said 98% of those in the commercial trucking program depend the scholarships to participate in the program.

As part of the HOPE overhaul the state funded a low-interest loan program that technical college officials say helped some students pay for school. Still, college leaders partly blame the reduced HOPE payouts for an enrollment drop of more than 12,000 students this past fall. The decline in enrollment was especially noticeable in the commercial trucking program.

Jobs in the heavy truck industry are expected to grow by more than 300,000 drivers by the year 2020, a 21% increase, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 95% of the students land jobs after graduation, with the average median wage $15 an hour, according to data from the Technical College System.

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