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HOPE Springs Eternal (summer 2003)
Georgia’s HOPE Scholarships
SINCE NATIONAL CROSSTALK’S last article about Georgia’s popular HOPE Scholarships (summer 2003), a number of changes have been made to keep HOPE spending within the bounds of the program’s funding source, which is the Georgia State Lottery.
In fall 2003, Governor Sonny Purdue appointed a commission to study the problem. The following spring the commission reported that the funding required for the HOPE scholarship winners would indeed exceed the lottery’s projected revenues.
The commission recommended tightening eligibility rules. Georgia lawmakers agreed and enacted a series of changes. The changes were adopted on the last day of the 2004 legislative session, after what one education official politely called a “contentious” debate.
The most important change was to take the compiling of high school grade point averages out of the hands of individual high schools and give it to the Georgia Student Finance Commission, which administers the HOPE scholarships, as well as other state scholarship and grant programs.
Some local high schools, wanting to help their graduates attain the 3.0 GPAs needed to be eligible for HOPE, did not count courses the students failed or dropped. And they were including such “soft” courses as physical education and driver training.
The rules set by the Student Finance Commission give credit only for “academic core” courses—English, mathematics, science, social science and foreign language. All “attempted” courses are counted, including those that students have failed or dropped.
As a result of these and other changes, the number of HOPE-eligible high school students has been reduced by about one-third. “The most significant change was the change in the GPA method,” said David V. Lee, vice president for strategic research and analysis for the Georgia Student Finance Commission.
HOPE is popular with campus officials.
“It enables a large percentage of our students to have their tuition paid,” said Ron Day, financial aid director at Kennesaw State University. About 7,000 of Kennesaw State’s 25,000 students hold HOPE scholarships.
Critics of merit-based financial aid programs remain skeptical about HOPE. “Nothing in the changes they made has altered the basic problems,” said Donald E. Heller, director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education, at Pennsylvania State University. “If anything, they push HOPE even more in the direction of a sop to the middle class.”
David Lee, of the Georgia State Finance Commission, disagrees. In 2003-04, he noted, $117 million in federal Pell grants went to students who held HOPE scholarships. “If we had a need-based system, I’m not sure we would see a larger pool of students,” Lee said.
Lee worries more about the program’s financial future. Although tightening the eligibility standards has reduced the number of students who qualify for HOPE, it is not a permanent solution.
“At some point, expenditures will again exceed revenues,” he warned, “and we’ll have to re-evaluate the program again.”