Georgia has enacted legislation to save the celebrated HOPE scholarship but salvation comes at a price: Automatic full tuition payments will become the exception instead of the norm, book payments are gone, funds to help with mandatory student fees are being scaled back and students will also learn there are three strikes in baseball but just two strikes in HOPE.
Governor Nathan Deal signed “Enduring HOPE” into law this week at the Georgia Capitol. In doing so, Deal fulfilled his Inaugural Address pledge to “save HOPE for future generations.” The Georgia Lottery-funded scholarship was crashing toward a $300 million shortfall as soon as next year. Georgia had no choice but to end the full tuition promise that it made 18 years ago.
Students will be asked to do more to receive more. This fall incoming freshmen will need a 3.7 high school cumulative grade point average (4.0 maximum) to qualify for full university or technical college tuition as “Zell Miller Scholars.” HOPE was created during his first term as Governor before he served in the U.S. Senate.
Miller Scholars will also need a 1,200 minimum SAT combined reading and math score or an ACT test score of at least 26. The valedictorian and salutatorian from each eligible high school will be automatically eligible for initial full tuition payments. Miller Scholars will be required to maintain a 3.3 university or college grade point average or they will lose full tuition payments.
Incoming freshmen whose high school grade point averages are higher than 3.0 but less than 3.7 will qualify for HOPE based on Georgia Lottery available funds. The percentage will be re-established annually by the General Assembly and the amount is not guaranteed. Governor Deal estimates there will be sufficient funds to cover 90% of tuition next fall. Students must maintain a 3.0 higher education grade point average to continue the scholarship.
Students who lose the HOPE scholarship for academic reasons will have one chance to regain support if they improve their grade point average. There will be no third chance for students who slip below the minimum GPA twice. Two strikes and the HOPE scholarship will be gone.
Qualifying for HOPE will become more difficult in four years. Students who graduate from high school on or after May 1, 2015 will need at least two advanced placement course credits in math, science, core subjects, foreign languages, international baccalaureate courses or university system courses taken before high school graduation. Students who graduate in 2016 will need three course credits and 2017 graduates will need four credits.
HOPE debuted in 1993 and became wildly popular. It fueled explosive growth in the university and technical college systems. HOPE has funneled $5.9 billion in Georgia Lottery funds to 1.34 million students. It also supports an extensive pre-K system that served 81,000 kids last year.
HOPE became the symbol of Georgia’s commitment to excellence and it is regularly held up as the gold standard when the state discusses its emergence in a technology-savvy society.
Eventually the promise of full tuition and other benefits became more than Georgia could afford but so much depends on HOPE that the state could not afford for the program to go bust.
The Georgia Lottery provided $883 million in Fiscal 2010, but expenses are beyond that level; $1.13 billion this fiscal year and $1.2 billion estimated next year. This new legislation reduced next year’s estimated cost to $883 million, in line with Georgia Lottery funding estimates.
The Georgia Student Finance Commission says it has no current statistics to show how many students lose HOPE eligibility for academic reasons but it noted “a study performed in 2004 showed that approximately 50-60% of incoming HOPE eligible freshmen lose the scholarship in the first year.”
GSFC also said it has no current data about the number of students who begin higher education studies with HOPE and retain the scholarship through graduation.
Critics of the new plan contend reducing most tuition awards to less than 100% is a hardship that will cause some students to quit school or need to work. The Atlanta chapter of the NAACP staged an anti-HOPE bill rally at the Capitol and said it might urge a Georgia Lottery boycott.
Governor Deal’s office has emphasized that Georgia’s revised HOPE scholarship will provide benefits equal to or better than scholarship programs in nearby states Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. Deal’s office also said New Mexico is the only state that covers full tuition, but as a reimbursement instead of the model used in Georgia, an upfront tuition credit.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
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