It once was common in the big leagues to have player-managers who would both set the lineups and insert themselves into the cleanup position. The last in the national pastime was Pete Rose for the Cincinnati Reds in 1986. In politics it has become increasingly common, with governors/presidents more routinely coming off the bench to try to swing for the legislative fences.
One such is Gov. Nathan Deal who, if he didn’t hit one out of the park regarding HOPE scholarships and technical college students the other day at least should be awarded a ground-rule double. If this signals a new emphasis on scoring an employable workforce for Georgia instead of simply cutting budget no matter who gets left stranded on base, it is a great sign.
What Deal did was publicly announce — news conference and all — his support for a plan to allow technical students, such as those at Georgia Northwestern serving this region, to remain eligible for the HOPE grant with a 2.0 grade-point average. That’s where it used to be until 2011, when manager Deal told the lineup of legislators to kick it up to 3.0 as part of several moves to get the lottery-funded higher education and pre-K programs into financial balance.
THAT NEEDED to be done and also affected traditional colleges/universities, although mostly by reductions in HOPE tuition funding to less than the previous 100 percent. However, manager Deal and his General Assembly locker room basically used a lineup that weakened rather than strengthened the state’s economic offense. More correction is actually needed, but at least there is visible recognition that having a workforce with identifiable skills has long since replaced strong backs as the primary job talent.
Nonetheless, it still takes a good team player to put himself into the lineup in full view of a booing, hissing crowd and then provide a clutch hit.
Indeed, this turned out to be a team effort — something notably lacking in Georgia politics of late. It was Democrats who offered a series of bills to repair this tech-college whoopsie one day while Deal made a bipartisan display of swinging at it the very next day. He probably hit an underhanded lob that was by design. He gets the cheers but the team wins, which isn’t a bad thing in these circumstances.
What had happened, for those not up with the score before Deal’s hit, is that the tech changes saw system enrollment plunge by 24,500 students a year from an earlier total participation of 170,860, of whom 75 percent rely on the HOPE to keep going. Some 9,000 were believed to have vanished due to the new grade rule alone, the rest probably coming from higher out-of-pocket costs of starting or continuing.
The Deal/Democrats proposal adds an estimated $5-$8 million to HOPE funding, readily affordable given the lottery revenues gained $32 million in the past year. This is atop Deal’s earlier first swing at this workforce ball by adding $6.5 million to provide extra financial aid to students in three areas known to have large numbers of unfilled positions in the state: practical nursing, commercial truck driving and early-childhood care and education.
BOTH ARE good moves — corrective adjustments to play the percentages known to lead to success, like putting in a left-handed pinch hitter. While this will do much to bring some students back and keep others enrolling, as a result stabilizing a highly successful technical college system, it is to be hoped that manager Deal and budget-setting legislators know there is a difference between a timely hit in the bottom of the ninth to win a game and creating a team that will lead the national league at the end of the season.
An overall workforce that is built of a wide array of necessary skills for both current and future employment is the whole season for Georgia. Power, speed, fielding, pitching — Georgia’s future will need them all.
The so-called “traditional” colleges and universities are very much a part of this as well, and similarly need more and better attention. They, too, now demand ever-increasing levels of attainment.
However, for too long, little-appreciated is that employment numbers for doctors, lawyers and corporate chiefs have always been lower than for butchers, bakers and candlestick makers (who are basically machinists) and computer programmers. Adequate supplies of all of these are needed in any viable workforce and, for too long, not enough stress has been placed on some occupations perhaps not sufficiently appreciated and where “learning” can be quite different that what is normally thought of.
This grade-point thing, now abandoned, for the technical colleges is a good example. Look at the course offerings there. They heavily involve occupations where hands-on ability is fundamental. One not only has to know what should be done; to pass, the student has to prove he or she can do it.
THAT MAKES, in tech schools, the passing of many tests more difficult and “above average” grades harder to attain. It is a fundamental difference that the 2.0 grade-average recognized and the now-abandoned 3.0 did not.
That 3.0 survives for the HOPE at the traditional schools. Unfortunately, as a recent national study showed, this appears to have led to the same sort of “grade inflation” somewhat notorious in Georgia high schools to assure a B average and a “free ticket” the traditional book-learning classrooms. (The technical colleges have always had different acceptance standards for students.)
According to the results involving a survey of a wide range of traditional colleges — two- and four-year, public and private — some 43 percent of all grades currently being “achieved” there are A’s, an increase of 28 percent points since 1960. And almost nobody now flunks a course unless they never show up.
That, of course, is at least in part the result of students needing a strong grade showing not only to retain the HOPE but all sorts of other scholarships and assistance. Add in that colleges, in times of economic tightness, need to retain those paying tuition in order to stay afloat, and it all becomes more understandable.
Then consider that many parents continue to consider the gauge of how smart and successful their offspring are by grades alone — and that governors and legislators seem to evaluate the successful outcome of education by the same standards — and it is apparent that this is a bit of re-education that Georgia needs to attempt as well.
TO WHATEVER extent Deal and state legislators may now be moving into this more realistic and balanced approach, that is worth the waving of tomahawks or whatever fans of a smarter workforce would use with a possible rally in the offing. Dollar bills, maybe.