Again, the state is warning that the cherished HOPE Scholarship – which puts thousands of middle-class students through college, including one of mine — is running low. See Laura Diamond’s story today.
I see an immediate solution, and not too many folks are going to like it. In fact, if most of you were in my newsroom now, you’d break off the chair legs and chase me down Marietta Street.
But here goes: Put an income cap on who gets HOPE. (That’s how it started, by the way.)
Early on, a study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University found that HOPE fuels the college hopes of kids who never lacked for it in the first place. Only 4 percent of the money spent on HOPE went to students who might not otherwise have gone to college, according to the Harvard study.
Is this the best focus of the HOPE millions – increasing college choice for middle-class and affluent students who were university-bound from the womb? Or would the money be better used to increase college access for less well-off kids for whom college was not a birthright?
With only a 3.0 average in high school required to earn HOPE, practically every upper-income student in Georgia qualifies, which is why the program is fast outstripping the lottery revenues that support it. The generous scholarship pays the entire tuition and fees and provides a book stipend for Georgia students attending in-state public schools.
Where is the right income cutoff? I would think somewhere above $100,000 a year. The state could consider the same income criteria that colleges use to determine need-based aid.
The state could also increase the required merit to qualify for HOPE. Perhaps, students could meet two out of three criteria to earn the scholarship — grade-point average, SAT scores or class rank. (Class rank will capture the kids in low-achieving rural schools who didn’t get the tools needed to do well on the SAT but still strove to place at the top of their class.)
OK, I am ready for the slings, arrows and general denouncements.
But I also want a better plan. How did we save HOPE when the demand is rising and lottery funds are flagging?