I continue to get weekly e-mails from parents either baffled or angered over the changes to the HOPE Scholarship by Gov. Nathan Deal, who maintains that his reductions saved the popular scholarship program.
But what parents are telling me is that Deal also complicated it.
Here is one such e-mail about how Georgia Tech, UGA and Georgia College students are discovering some of the quirks to the changes the hard way:
This weekend, one of my daughters told me that a friend had dropped a class during drop-add, leaving her with 12 hours. Then she got a tuition bill. She called Financial Aid and they said it was because they bill a flat rate for seven or more hours and HOPE pays on a credit-hour rate now. I had seen the HOPE payment schedule by college and had wrongfully assumed that since UGA’s schedule was by credit hour that they had changed their tuition schedule from a flat rate to a credit hour rate. As far as I know, the HOPE students were not told of these changes until they dropped below 15 hours and got the bill.
I checked the Board of Regents website and there are only three colleges that bill with a flat rate, GA Tech, UGA and Georgia College. It says it is to encourage students to take 15 hours a semester and finish in four years. With the HOPE changes, they are financially punishing “the best and brightest” who come from middle class and lower socioeconomic status. Students at UGA and Tech are already paying the highest tuition and fees in the state.
In my opinion, this change means that Gov. Deal has lied or at least mislead the students at UGA, Tech and Georgia College. The HOPE scholarship is not paying 90 percent of last year’s tuition at UGA, GA Tech and GSCU. Last year’s tuition rate for 12 hours at UGA was $3,535, not $2,828, which is what they are using for the calculation.
Do you think the governor and his “people” knew this and just didn’t care about the impact on the students? Or are they just ignorant about the fee schedules of the University System of Georgia? I mean how can they justify using two different ways to calculate the tuition rate?
Regarding the “finish in four” encouragement, many of the students at UGA have taken Joint Enrollment, AP & IB classes and have exempted many credit hours before enrolling. They should be allowed the luxury of taking 12 hours (still classified as full-time) if they want without being hurt financially, especially since all but two other public colleges in the state are not doing the same.
The Board of Regents needs to understand that many students at UGA can graduate in four years without taking 15 hours a semester. Anyway, was there a problem with students not graduating from UGA in four years? From what I understand, it is next to impossible to graduate from Georgia Tech in four years. Maybe, if they made it more affordable for kids to take 12 hours at Tech, the students wouldn’t fail and have to re-take classes. Re-taking classes is nothing new. It has been happening at least since my brothers went there in the 1980s.
I would expect that the number of HOPE students at Tech dwindles even more next semester with this 15 hour requirement for the 90 percent tuition, which is actually about 87 percent of this year’s tuition.
With the increase in tuition and fees, this change affects the middle class students the most. I did not realize until I checked into it in the spring, but 52 percent of the HOPE students at UGA come from families making over $100,000 a year. I surmise that Rep. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, is the parent to two of those students. On February 27, 2011, this was in the Walton Tribune:
“‘I’ve got two boys at the University of Georgia, and their tuition’s about $7,200 bucks a year,’ Cowsert said. “It’s been paying in full and now subtract 720 bucks from it. It’s still going to be a fantastic program, but that’s the only way math will work that we can afford to do it.’”
He makes it sound like $720 is nothing. To him, it may be but to students less well off than his, $720 is a lot. Some people are just out of touch. Also, as you have previously pointed out, tuition is not the only thing that students have to pay. They have fees, housing, food and other living expenses. At UGA, unless a student is from the Athens area like his kids, it is not economically practical to commute.
I sent this parent’s comments to Gov. Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson, who sent me this note:
The governor and Legislature faced the choice of reform or bankruptcy for the HOPE scholarship. The reforms implemented this year preserve the program and allow the state to give this benefit to as many people as possible for many years to come. Georgia’s HOPE scholarship remains the most generous benefit of this nature in the nation.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog