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Can You Count on HOPE?

Frequently asked questions about Georgia’s groundbreaking scholarship

How many powerball tickets does it take to send one HOPE scholar to the University of Georgia? More than 12,000 a year. With 97 percent of UGA freshmen qualifying, that’s a lot of mini-mart runs.

You don’t have to be a math major to appreciate the challenging equation. Lottery revenues were down 1 percent last year, and even though sales were trending up after the first quarter of fiscal 2012, they still lagged behind budget. On the other hand, more than 256,000 students received $748 million last year, almost 100,000 more students and nearly triple the money that was awarded just ten years ago. To make ends meet, the Georgia Student Finance Commission (GSFC), which administers HOPE, began using reserves in 2010 and warned those funds would be depleted by 2013 if something didn’t change fast.

In response, the Georgia Legislature passed House Bill 326 in March 2011, but its cutbacks didn’t stanch the bleeding. In January 2012, Senator Jason Carter (D-DeKalb) proposed another round of reforms—warning that, under the current plan, HOPE would pay for less than half the cost of college by 2016. Most notably, the Democrats want to reinstate the family income cap. In 1993, when the program was founded, scholarships were limited to students with family incomes below $66,000. Under the new plan, the cap would fluctuate every year, depending on lottery revenue. If there were a limit of $140,000 this year, for example, HOPE could provide a full scholarship to 94 percent of Georgia families and stay solvent, according to Carter. (Students would only have to meet the income ceiling once, upon entry into the program.)

Regardless of the outcome, which was still being debated at press time, Georgia awards more scholarship money than any other state. Here’s where the program stands today:

How much has the HOPE coverage changed? The HOPE Scholarship used to cover 100 percent of tuition at Georgia public colleges and universities and $4,000 annually at Georgia private schools, plus some student fees and a book allowance. For the 2011–2012 school year, HOPE paid only for approximately 90 percent of public tuition and $3,600 at private schools. For example, at Georgia Tech or the University of Georgia, that was $3,181.50 per semester. The amount will be set each year when lawmakers convene during the General Assembly. Coverage depends on projected lottery revenue, as well as projected enrollment figures for both HOPE scholars and pre-K, which is also funded by lottery money.

Who is eligible for the HOPE Scholarship? Georgia high school students in college tracks must graduate with a minimum 3.0 in English, math, science, social science, and foreign language classes. Students in career-tech tracks must graduate with a minimum 3.2 in core subjects. Next school year, the separate tracks will be merged, and all high school students will face the same graduation requirements and need a 3.0 to qualify for HOPE. If students weren’t academically eligible in high school, they can still qualify if they maintain a 3.0 GPA in college.

Do honors or AP classes carry more weight in calculating the high school GPA? Yes and no. Schools provide transcripts to the GSFC, which converts grades to a true 4.0 scale. Extra weight is given to AP and International Baccalaureate classes, but not honors courses.

How do students maintain HOPE in college? They must keep up a 3.0 cumulative GPA as either a full- or part-time student.

Did House Bill 326 change eligibility requirements? No. But what will change is the caliber of courses required in order for a 3.0 to qualify for HOPE. The high school graduating class of 2015 must have taken at least two advanced classes—advanced math, advanced science, AP, or IB classes—during high school. This number increases to four by 2017. The point, says Tracy Ireland, division GSFC director, is to encourage rigorous course-taking, which in turn increases the likelihood of college success.

Can any students still get all tuition covered? Yes. High school graduates with a 3.7 GPA and at least a 1200 on the combined verbal and math parts of the SAT or who are valedictorian or salutatorian are eligible for the Zell Miller Scholarship, launched last year by Governor Nathan Deal. It pays all tuition and is renewable as long as the student maintains a 3.3 GPA. However, this program has proven unexpectedly expensive, particularly since most qualifiers attend UGA and Georgia Tech, the state’s two costliest schools. Democrats want to change the criteria to the top 3 percent of every high school class in order to spread the grants more evenly across the state.

What about students working toward a technical certificate or diploma? They are eligible for the HOPE Grant, regardless of their high school GPA. Currently, the HOPE Grant covers 90 percent of tuition for up to ninety-five quarter hours or sixty-three semester hours. Once enrolled, students must maintain a 3.0 GPA according to the 2011 reforms. However, the new GPA requirement caused thousands of adults to drop out of technical colleges, and House Democrats want to lower it to 2.5.

Do current HOPE scholars get to keep their award amounts if the HOPE dollars change? No. Awards adjust annually.

If a student’s grade drops below 3.0 in college, can he or she get HOPE back? A student can reapply once if grades dip below 3.0. If it happens again, HOPE is off the table for good.

Is there a limit on how long a student can receive HOPE? Students who started receiving HOPE in fall 2011 or later can continue until seven years after their high school graduation date.

Are mandatory fees and books covered? Mandatory fees can account for as much as 25 percent of a student’s college costs—sometimes more than $1,000 per semester—and are not covered by HOPE. These fees typically pay for things like student activities, recreation centers, and parking. Books, which are also no longer covered under HOPE, can easily cost $500 per semester.

What is the new Student Access Loan Program? This is a new loan program from the Georgia Student Finance Commission. Applicants must have a minimum 2.5 GPA to apply. This very low-interest (1 percent) loan is for Georgia students who have exhausted all other sources of financial aid, including federal and state student loans, Parent PLUS loans, and grant programs. Students may borrow as much as $10,000 per year, up to a lifetime maximum $40,000. The loan must be repaid within ten years. These loans are hard to get, according to Ireland, who says the GSFC had 8,800 applications requesting $65 million just months after the loans were announced last June. By the end of 2011, nearly 2,000 students had received $12.9 million.