What's Next for HOPE?
An overview of the HOPE scholarship's history and future
The HOPE scholarship—launched in 1993 and funded by the Georgia Lottery—marks its twentieth anniversary with growing pains and uncertainty. The program is credited with boosting enrollment and academic rigor at Georgia schools. (Disclosure: My daughter graduated from the University of Georgia in 2004 after attending four years on HOPE.) But that explosive growth, combined with a troubled economy, has led to dramatic belt-tightening. Unfortunately the belt was pulled too tight for many of the students who need the scholarship the most.
Back in 2011, when it looked like HOPE was headed for bankruptcy, lawmakers changed the program. Governor Nathan Deal put together a two-tiered system: Zell Miller Scholars—who graduate high school with 3.7 GPAs, score 1200 on the two-part SAT, and maintain 3.3 GPAs in college—get full-ride tuition coverage; recipients of “classic HOPE,” who meet the old standards—3.0 GPAs in high school and college—get reduced tuition coverage, about 90 percent. Coverage of books and fees is eliminated for all HOPE recipients. At the same time, tuition is increasing—2.5 percent on average and as high as 6 percent at Georgia Tech.
The tiered system was applied retroactively, forcing thousands of Georgians already in college in 2011 to scratch around for money to make up for the lost HOPE funds. By 2012 some simply dropped their plans to get degrees.
The scholarship funds flow disproportionately into the affluent Atlanta suburbs, where many high-achieving students come from families that appreciate the bump but don’t desperately need it. A 2012 report by the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute found that counties with the highest median household incomes snag the most HOPE dollars while contributing less to the lottery that fuels it.
“The state has essentially abandoned South Georgia and rural Georgia,” says state senator Jason Carter (D-DeKalb), who, along with other Democrats, pushed for ways to keep HOPE accessible to lower-income and rural families. “We’re spending more and more money on people who need it the least.”
Along with tiered HOPE awards for university system enrollees came tougher requirements at technical schools, contributing to a plunge of 12,000 students in the Technical College System of Georgia in the fall of 2011 and a drop of another 5,000 this past fall, bringing enrollment to 98,000. “HOPE definitely had an impact,” says Mike Light, spokesman for the technical colleges, who attributes about a third of the decline in technical school enrollment to the new HOPE requirements and the rest to the recession. About 4,000 technical students lost HOPE grants because they couldn’t keep the newly required 3.0 GPA while in college.
So should parents and students anticipate another round of changes as the General Assembly kicks off its 2013 session this month? Democrats have discussed reinstating an income cap or considering need in addition to merit. A spokesman for Deal said in November that the governor’s office was still in the budget process and it was too early to have a conversation about HOPE.
However, Carter says there is enough concern—on all sides— in the General Assembly to reassess the impact of the most recent changes to HOPE. “The best-case scenario is if we roll up our sleeves, in a bipartisan way, and maximize the number of students who go to college,” he says.
This article originally appeared in our January 2013 issue.