Legislature can’t ignore the HOPE crisis any longer

The cost of graduating a Georgia college will be higher if HOPE is reduced.

The cost of graduating a Georgia college will be higher if HOPE is reduced.

With the HOPE scholarship bleeding money, the Legislature only has two choices to save the popular program. It can either slash the number of HOPE recipients or the amount that each student receives.

Neither will be politically popular, which explains why lawmakers long ignored the gathering storm clouds over HOPE until the winds nearly blew off the roof of the Capitol.

As early as 2003, legislators were warned that the Georgia Lottery would have a hard time keeping up with the two education programs it supports, HOPE and universal pre-k. This fiscal year, the lottery will be short $243 million. By 2012, the shortfall grows to $317 million.

Seven years ago, the state assembled a commission that made recommendations for deep cuts to HOPE, but a better-than-expected haul in lottery proceeds convinced lawmakers that the state could afford to wait to eviscerate HOPE.

So while the 2004 Legislature passed a bill that permitted an eventual phaseout of books and fees if the program’s finances deteriorated further, lawmakers also tacked on an amendment opening the scholarship to part-time private college students.

The annual price tag of that addition at the time was $4.5 million — or the cost of 1,000 HOPE scholarships at the University of Georgia.

The private college provision won legislative approval even though legislators knew that the HOPE scholarship would eventually outpace the lottery funds. The entire history of HOPE reflects expansions by the Georgia General Assembly, including allowing private college students who lost HOPE because of low grades to get a “second chance” to regain it, as given to public college students. The Legislature also expanded HOPE to home-schooled students and to students from unaccredited high schools.

The strain on HOPE resources also comes from the increased high school graduation rate, which is sending more Georgia teens to college. And the bleak economy is sending more Georgians back to school, fueling increases in the HOPE grants, which go to technical school students.

Now, Gov.-elect Nathan Deal and leaders of the House and Senate appear sobered by the dire situation and prepared to make significant changes to the scholarship program, which has helped more than 1.4 million Georgians attend college since 1993. To earn HOPE, high school students have to have a 3.0 grade-point average. To keep it once in college, they have to maintain a 3.0 GPA.

Many ideas on how to cut costs — and hopefully irk the fewest number of voters — are under discussion by lawmakers. All have drawbacks and will draw howls of protest.

The simplest idea is to raise the threshold to qualify for HOPE so fewer scholarships are awarded. Perhaps, students would have to have a 3.2 GPA to earn HOPE in high school and keep it in college.

There’s already quibbling from people who contend that the GPA requirement should be calibrated to match the rigor of the major. So, students in engineering or math may only have to keep a 2.75 GPA, while English majors might be held to a 3.5 GPA average. Otherwise, students might shun the science, math and engineering degrees that are desperately needed in Georgia because those majors are often the most grueling.

Another idea is to reduce the HOPE award so it only pays for 80 percent or 75 percent of college costs. That would be politically more palatable, as it wouldn’t entail cutting the number of HOPE recipients.

But it dulls the shine of the scholarship, which flourished on a simple and accessible concept: Graduate with a B average from high school and go to a public college or university for absolutely free.

“Nearly free” or “at a discounted rate” don’t have the same panache.

A prominent DeKalb lawmaker recommends incorporating a minimum SAT/ACT score to qualify for HOPE. State Rep. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said tightening the eligibility will eliminate the number of HOPE scholars in remedial classes.

In the fall of 2009, Millar said 10.4 percent of the University System of Georgia’s incoming freshmen students in remediation were getting HOPE. He argued that low SAT scores are a good indicator that a student will struggle in college. Millar cited state data showing that 3,465 public college freshmen with SAT scores under 1000 arrived on campus with HOPE in 2008. A year later, only 1,982 of these students returned to a Georgia public college.

No one likes my money-saving idea — once students lose HOPE in college, they can’t regain it. Parents tell me about their son’s killer semester at Tech or their daughter’s bad spell at UGA and argue that students deserve a second chance at HOPE.

I counter that students need to learn that sometimes there are no second chances. Otherwise, students may be forced to learn another tough lesson: There are no free lunches or tuition anymore, either.

–By Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

175 comments Add your comment

More Republican Garbage

December 27th, 2010
4:39 pm

While changes need to be made, the Legislature needs to step in and put a stop to the obscene bonuses the Lottery Commission head and employees get each year also. They need to make sure that the HOPE is available for ALL Georgia students and not just the kids of the rich and famous also.

d

December 27th, 2010
4:39 pm

Frankly, I think the DOE needs to look at a state-wide rule redefining the grading scale. Personally, I believe 90 is too low to be considered an “A” and 80 is too low to be a “B.” Perhaps if we looked at a state-wide rule either saying you must have an 86 cumulative average or go to say a 93-100 = A, 84-92=B, 75-83=C and 70-74 = D. We can leave the HOPE rules alone that way….. Or maybe, we need a +- system where a B- only earns you 2.7 quality points for GPA calculation. I think this problem could be handled much more efficiently this way.

EnoughAlready

December 27th, 2010
4:42 pm

The idea of NO second chance only hurt poor and low income students, those who party hard; but have deep pocket parents will get a second chance. The only thing is they got their first chance for free; i.e NOT at the expense of the deep pocket parents.

As a christian, I believe in redemption.

Another thought process

December 27th, 2010
4:46 pm

Instead of cutting the HOPE recipients, how about finding ways to increase the lottery revenues instead? Reduce the jackpots by 5%, possibly add dog or horse tracks, or maybe even a casino? Don’t punish good students…..and the parents of good students!

EnoughAlready

December 27th, 2010
4:47 pm

It doesn’t matter if we change the grade scale; teachers and principals will find away around it for their students and school. No one likes to have their community or school look like failures; so they inflate grades.

How else could we have so many students with highschool diplomas, who can barely read and perform basic math operations?

d

December 27th, 2010
4:50 pm

@Another thought – I love your idea but it’ll likely never happen in Georgia. We barely passed the lottery in the 90s, and it’s going to be even harder to try to do something like that with Georgia’s currently political make up.

@Maureen – do you know how to contact Dr. Barge? I wonder if the DOE would consider something like I proposed a few minutes ago. I truly believe that process would be much more efficient than an act of the General Assembly.

Maureen Downey

December 27th, 2010
4:53 pm

@d, The last e-mail I had for John Barge was johnbarge@electjohnbarge.com. But his DOE e-mail is probably up and running. I would assume it would be: jbarge@doe.k12.ga.us
Maureen

Cameron

December 27th, 2010
4:54 pm

The same people who are concerned about the difficulty of the majors would likely be up in arms over your suggestion. It seems to me that some kind of sliding scale that incorporates ability to pay with what HOPE pays seems appropriate, with the stipulation that any student receives at least some scholarship award no matter the income level. It would need to be constructed in a way that is much more gradual the federal system appears to me.

[...] and more »Apple iPod touch 8 GB (4th Generation) NEWEST MODEL Via Legislature can’t ignore the HOPE crisis any longer – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog… [...]

Sid

December 27th, 2010
4:58 pm

rather than no 2nd chances why not just do what most companies (used to) do: make it reimbursement based? student/family/whoever floats the 1st semester (so they have “skin in the game”) and get reimbursed for every B or better.

secondly, most of the “fixes” I’ve read have been across the board along some axis (grades, income, etc) – why not target it by major based on what will have the most (positive) economic impact to the state? we could do something like fully fund all biochemistry majors, top 80% (by GPA) of business majors and only top 100 (or whatever #) English majors. stop worrying about political palatability or various concepts of “fair” (i.e. political palatability) and look at it from an ROI standpoint (or “fair” from the taxpayer point of view)!

Rich

December 27th, 2010
5:01 pm

If we raise the GPA, grade inflation will follow. Has any study been done on GPA pre and post Hope? My guess is that the average GPA went up.

We should include the SAT to off set the grade inflation.

[...] and more » Call of Duty: Black Ops Via Legislature can’t ignore the HOPE crisis any longer – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog… [...]

teach

December 27th, 2010
5:02 pm

There is a simple way to fix it. Make the scholarship award come at the END of each semester. Therefore if the kids get in and mess up the first semester, then they get no money and the HOPE is not out that money. If a kids does well, then they get their money and it can go to the next semester and so on. They get their final award when they graduate. This would end those kids who really are not into going to college getting the award, then flunking out and that money is never seen again. OR Make students who do not make the grade pay the money back, turn it into a low interest school loan. Then kids have a true incentive to do well and continue to do well.

Bob

December 27th, 2010
5:03 pm

How about cutting all the extra programs it added. Let’s face it pre-K programs, computer in school, etc while I am quite sure benefit the child, is often used as a free baby sitting service or other give away program. College kids already have enough on them just keeping the good grades and for those of you who think just because someone makes 75K or more they can somehow afford the high costs of college.

Legislators need to start worrying about those poor folks who can not afford college. There are more than enough free college money for kids who make decent grades and who family’s financial situation is poor.

d

December 27th, 2010
5:04 pm

@Sid we can’t try to run government like a business. It is not. Government should not be trying to earn a profit. We can’t be looking at the ROI or other business factors in these decisions. We must be looking at what is the best for all Georgians, and all Georgians aren’t necessarily adept at every potential major, but all can be fully involved citizens and taxpayers if given the opportunity.

Burroughston Broch

December 27th, 2010
5:09 pm

@ More Republican Garbage

Actually, the Lottery legislation was established by a Democrat-controlled Legislature under Governor Miller. It requires 50% of the income be returned as winnings and splits the rest between HOPE and the expenses of running the Lottery, with HOPE coming in last. The high salaries and bonuses year after year take precedence over HOPE.

In addition to increasing the percentage that goes to HOPE and decreasing the employees compensation, the Legislature should prohibit any university student taking remedial courses from HOPE benefits.

Susan

December 27th, 2010
5:14 pm

Reality hurts when it hits the politicians between the eyes. As a retired college financial aid director who was involved in the original writing of the HOPE regulations and had to manage the changes from year to year I can attest to the fact that all who administer the program have known for years funding could never keep up with the demands for HOPE. Having observed the HOPE hearings 5-6 years ago it was clear the reality of outgo versus income was not matched by the political will to address needed changes. Now, the water has risen beyond flood stage and those under the gold dome are stunned to realize their choice of oars is minimal.

Rather than adding more eligibility criteria or changing what has been a long-standing standard for receiving HOPE would it not be easier to simply spend what the lottery provides from year-to-year? The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, the Georgia Student Finance Commision and Lottery officials are very capable of projecting lottery income and HOE demand from year to year. Colleges and universities across the state are also very good at projecting their credit hour production from year to year. If the prior year’s Lottery income projection for HOPE (A) is compared to the coming year’s credit hour production for expected HOPE recipients (B) a simple act of dividing A by B would reveal the amount of HOPE available per credit hour for HOPE recipients.

Yes, this would result in fewer HOPE dollars per student but that is going to be the case no matter which option is used. It is understandable and would allow for financial aid awards to be prepared for students in time to pay summer tuition bills. It would also give the politicians the ability to say “Hey, we’re only spending what is available so don’t blame us.” There are many details which would have to be worked out but those in the state who manage this program are more than able to handle this. HOPE Scholarships have become a tremendous entitlement program for many of the recipients and at least knowing everyone is being reduced in a similar fashion would deny any group the perceived right to holler “Ouch” louder than any other group.

One issue which has not been addressed in the media is the timing of these changes. HOPE regulations per state law are changed for the Summer semester. Some of those classes begin in May. Even if the General Assembly by some miracle finishes its work by late March it is unlikely any statutory changes made in the HOPE Program can be studied, regulations written and college computer systems updated to award HOPE correctly for the Summer. High school students who are trying to make an enrollment decision without knowing how much their HOPE Scholarship will be can easily be drawn to out-of-state to colleges which can provide complete scholarship information. Depending on the complexity of the changes it could be late summer before computer systems can be updated. It is easy to say “well, just get out your pencil and paper and determine which student is eligible and which is not” but when you attempt to do that for more than 200,000 HOPE recipients it is impossible to do it correctly without computer support.

The HOPE Scholarship has literally changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of our state college stgudents. It is incumbent upon the General Assembly to finally manage the budgetary concerns while at the same time continuing to provide funding in a timely fashion to insure the higher education enrollment for our state citizens.

WAW

December 27th, 2010
5:14 pm

“Graduate with a B average from high school and go to a public college or university for absolutely free.”

That is what the voters of Georgia passed. That is it. Period. If you want to go to a private, part-time, for-profit college then have at it but not on the backs of students for whom the HOPE scholarship program was passed. Legislators should repent of sins of lying, cheating, stealing that is what they have done to HOPE!

Now that Republicans are in charge they need to do what the voters wanted not what their owners want. But then that is not the way they operate. Slavery is bad for everyone.

blackbird13

December 27th, 2010
5:20 pm

Why is there no mention from officials about making HOPE a reimbursement/loan program, dependent on the first 30 hours gpa? It largely eliminates the grade inflation at the high school level (where teachers are under much greater pressure to inflate grades than at the college level) and it cuts out the free ride for those who waste a year of free college on partying.

Bobbie

December 27th, 2010
5:22 pm

I have a hard time understanding why it’s given at all to those who CHOOSE a private college. Go to a cheaper, public school. If you want to go to a private college then take out a loan.

zinc

December 27th, 2010
5:24 pm

@Burroughston

You might want to check your statement for accuracy. Your information is not correct.

The bottomline is that keeping payouts high encourages people to play the lottery more. More people playing the lottery = more sales. More sales = more money for education. There is a reason the GA lottery continues to wildly popular. In fact, they have posted 12 consecutive years of increased revenue. Do some research on how other states have fared the past two years.

The Lottery Corp is a PRIVATE business. The state should have no say in how much people are paid, bonuses, etc. Lest we forget that the job of the Lottery is not to supplement the State budget, but to provide games and winnings to those who play.

d

December 27th, 2010
5:30 pm

@blackbird I can’t tell you how many students have told me they need a (fill in the blank) in my class. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told those same students it won’t likely happen because they haven’t earned it. I’m sorry. You want the grade, do the work. I know quite a few of my fellow educators who feel the same, I just wish it was all of my fellow educators.

history teacher

December 27th, 2010
5:31 pm

One cost saving measure is to not allow HOPE for students who are PELL grant eligible. Students who get HOPE and qualify for PELL make money on the deal. I teach at a school where students make close to $1000 a semester. HOPE is used first. The rest is paid for by Pell and Pell money not used is sent to students.

Double Zero Eight

December 27th, 2010
5:32 pm

Set a minimum ACT or SAT score in conjunction with
the B GPA requirement. Eliminate remedial classes as
part of the accepted college curriculum. You can’t be
in a remedial class and be a true “scholar”.

julia

December 27th, 2010
5:32 pm

this is the reason I do not like Nathan NO Deal… this need to go back to a cap of income and his comment of keeping the smart kids in ga was just absurd!

[...] and more » Call of Duty: Black Ops Via Legislature can’t ignore the HOPE crisis any longer – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog… [...]

d

December 27th, 2010
5:33 pm

@History teacher Has it always been that way? I earned HOPE (although I did use it at a private university) but my PELL was significantly reduced – specifically by $3,000. I think after all my expenses were paid, loans included, I may have received a check for about $500 a semester back from the school.

d

December 27th, 2010
5:35 pm

@Double Zero Eight,
Why the SAT/ACT requirement? I’m personally fine with ineligibility of remedial classes, but why press more emphasis and profit towards the testing industry?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ODE GAE NEA. ODE GAE NEA said: RT @AJCGetSchooled: Legislature can’t ignore the HOPE crisis any longer http://bit.ly/eOwGvc [...]

catlady

December 27th, 2010
5:38 pm

Cross-tab the grades (which are suspect in many cases) with the SAT/ACT scores. We need to give the full HOPE to those who have shown the skills necessary to succeed. When the student can show skills (ie college GPA) necessary to succeed in college, they can “earn” it, at the 30 hour (college level work) mark. It would serve two purposes: to weed out those whose grades have been inflated AND to encourage students to get the 30 hours more quickly. Of course, it adds pressure to the college professors, but they are already getting that pressure anyway. And the SAT/ACT provision adds credence to the suitability of the student for college level work, as long as the cut is set high enough to mean something. I know the professors would appreciate students who are actually ready for college. It might also divert attention at the high school level to preparing students, instead of finding ways to give students Bs. As to the argument that there are students who “don’t test well”, well, they had better get good at it quickly before they go to college!

d

December 27th, 2010
5:42 pm

@catlady I don’t know about you, but in both my undergraduate and graduate experiences, I encountered very few multiple choice tests. Is there some other way of assessing students’ readiness for college-level work that we could implement if we are going to tie some sort of assessment to HOPE eligibility? Frankly, I am very concerned about using SAT and ACT, but I certainly don’t want to see the state of Georgia try to establish its own test for this.

Chuck Allison

December 27th, 2010
5:45 pm

Eliminate the lottery and tell parents to save their gambling money for their kid’s education.

schlmarm

December 27th, 2010
5:50 pm

Universal Pre-K is nothing more than babysitting, and doing the job that should be done at home. It’s another entitlement program. Those babies are too young to be in school all day anyway. Pour the money where it belongs–K-12 and college.

catlady

December 27th, 2010
5:50 pm

Or, another more elaborate idea is that we make policy that would channel students with a 3.0 but poor SAT into the 2 year colleges–HOPE would pay for that. Students with a 3.0 but an SAT showing mastery of high school level math, reading, and reading would be eligible for HOPE tuition paid at 4 year colleges. This could result in significant savings getting marginal students into colleges that have more significant safeguards and support systems.

Val

December 27th, 2010
5:51 pm

hmmmm…I guess the right to vote is important(now)?! Too late!

[...] Legislature can't ignore the HOPE crisis any longerAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)A prominent DeKalb lawmaker recommends incorporating a minimum SAT/ACT score to qualify for HOPE. State Rep. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said tightening the …and more » [...]

d

December 27th, 2010
5:55 pm

@Catlady – now that is something I like. I still think it needs to be coupled with changing the grading scale state wide. Between the time I graduated in 1997 and my sister’s graduation in 2000, Gwinnett County changed its grading scale to not put their students at a “disadvantage” with other students in the state. I had a student last semester who was a transfer from North Carolina and in the 3 parent conferences I had with her mother, she was surprised that we allow an A at 90 and a B at 80. I believe she said you had to have a 94 for an A and 85 for a B. Seems fair to me.

@schlmarm – I have a good friend who teaches kindergarten in DeKalb. I hear her tell about the differences of students who come in from the state Pre-K program and those who never darkened a schoolhouse door until their first day of kindergarten. Something is going right in Pre-K, it’s not just babysitting.

Concerned 1

December 27th, 2010
5:58 pm

@ Chuck Allison…sounds like a winner.

[...] and more »Apple iPod touch 8 GB (4th Generation) NEWEST MODEL Via Legislature can’t ignore the HOPE crisis any longer – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog… [...]

GNGS

December 27th, 2010
6:04 pm

SAT is best at predicting a student’s performance in college. If the goal is not to waste HOPE money by students who quit college after first year, adding a minimal SAT score as a requirement seems to be the most obvious solution. In addition, a SAT score (or other standardized test scores) will address grade inflation problem.

d

December 27th, 2010
6:09 pm

@GNGS, I believe a student’s GPA is a much better predictor. I also believe since most teachers’ gradebooks are now available online, that will reduce grade inflation because parents can clearly see their students aren’t performing. SAT is an aptitude test, and frankly, we have way too many students taking it as it is now.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris Eggleston. Chris Eggleston said: Legislature can't ignore the HOPE crisis any longer: And the bleak economy is sending more Georgians bac… http://bit.ly/gRwG2Q #grants [...]

catlady

December 27th, 2010
6:23 pm

d, I think the SAT and GPA coupled provide something like 40% of the predictive power of how a student will do their first year in college. Pretty high, putting them together. That is from national studies, and does not take into account the distortions in Ga high school gpas (putting that in a very gentle way). I view the SAT as an achievement test, as it measures what you have learned to do.

I am sure you are younger than I am, but I had a LOT of multiple choice tests as an undergrad. Actually, quite a few in my master’s programs. Not any I can remember in my PhD. I still posit that the skills involved in taking mc tests would be important to college AND high school success.

Motivation is super-important, but you’ve got to have the basic skills. We can’t count on a 3.0 indicating that, at least in Georgia.

Double Zero Eight

December 27th, 2010
6:24 pm

@d
Grade inflation is an issue thorughout Georgia. The SAT
or ACT minimum requirement in conjunction with a 3.0
GPA will level the playing field,
.

Double Zero Eight

December 27th, 2010
6:26 pm

Spelled “throughout” incorrectly in my previous post.

dk

December 27th, 2010
6:30 pm

Here is a strange idea, why not get a job and pay for your own college degree? I worked full time and went to college either part time or full time depending on the money I had, as millions of other graduates have done. I even borrower money that I am paying back now.

Of those who take the hope, how many get a at least a two year degree? Nationally, less then 50% finish college, so it seems like a waste of money. If you have skin in the game, then you are more likely to do what it takes to finish.

And if you want your free tuition, why not join the military, put in 4 years and get the cash?

Pompano

December 27th, 2010
6:31 pm

The Hope fund has been plundered by the Colleges & Universities themselves. The astromical rise in costs at these instutitions over the last decade is what has placed the Hope scholarship in financial stress.

The only long-term solution is to reduce the actual costs associated with post-secondary education and cut waste/beauracracy.

JF McNamara

December 27th, 2010
6:38 pm

Why not allow Casinos since its already supported by gambling?

Why not add a need based element to hope? Why are poor people buying lottery tickets supporting the education of wealthy children when they could pay the tuition without much struggle?

Why not come into to 2000s and allow alcholol sales on Sunday with an extra tax?

The first thing our rich lesgislators want to do is cut primarily areas where they won’t be affected. Their kids go to the best schools, have the best GPAs and highest test scores. They’ll happilly cut your kids funding and sell it as Republicans acting fiscally responsable when really they are cutting your benefits only. Stop falling for it. We can keep hope as is. We just need to think harder about where to get the funding or cut some of the tax breaks helping those who don’t really need them.

This isn’t a white or black thing either. If you grow up in a rural county, you’re probably not getting the same education as someone living in Buckhead and your test scores won’t be as high. You will have to work harder in college to make up for your schooling even if you had a GPA in high school.

If they are serious about saving hope, put a cap on the income of the parents for the students. I’ll probably end up paying myself, but I’ll thank God for being able to do so instead of crying about it.

OneFreeMan

December 27th, 2010
6:58 pm

Cut cost by offering more online courses and less classroom time then close no longer needed buildings. College campuses will eventually be a waste of money.

Reality Check

December 27th, 2010
7:01 pm

I see a few others have commented on the Pre-K program. I never hear the legislators threatening to cut that program. When it started, it was for low income or at-risk students. I’m not sure when the requirements changed and I don’t remember much publicity regarding the change. Maybe parents should have a choice – receive lottery education funds for Pre-K or wait to receive lottery education funds for college–bot not both.