The luster of a HOPE Scholarship — once a full tuition ride to public colleges for Georgia high school graduates with a B average — may dim a bit more this year.
To recap how we came to this depressing situation: Faced with a money crunch, Gov. Nathan Deal last year reduced HOPE for all but top high school students, those who graduated with a 3.7 or higher GPA combined with a minimum score of 1200 on the math and reading portions of the SAT test or a 26 composite score on the ACT.
It turns out that more kids qualified for the Zell Miller Scholarship than had been expected, so the regular HOPE Scholars — which I call HOPE Lite – could see their financial awards shrink even further than predicted over the next several years.
In stark terms, to fully fund the Miller-level scholars, the state could end up plundering the HOPE Lite coffers.
I still have the same complaint about the two tiers of HOPE that the governor and Legislature created.
The qualifications for the full HOPE/Zell Miller Scholarship rest solely on high school performance. So, teens who graduated from the state’s highest performing high schools and even achieved a perfect score on the SAT cannot get full HOPE if their grade point average was not 3.7.
Students who took 11 AP classes and attended highly competitive high schools but ended up with a 3.6 GPA because of their grueling course loads are out of luck. And that will not change even if those students are physics majors at Tech and maintain a 4.0 GPA there.
Seems unfair to me. What do you think?
The Georgia Student Finance Commission, which oversees both scholarships, already has seen thousands more students qualify this year for the Zell Miller Scholarship than it had anticipated. Commission President Tim Connell said the agency may have to borrow against future revenue from the Georgia Lottery to cover the cost. That, in turn, will only further exacerbate HOPE’s financial woes.
Additionally, despite conservative cost estimates from commission officials, Deal has asked lawmakers to allot millions of dollars less than what will likely be needed. Deal’s request comes as uncertainty lingers about how many students will be eligible for the money, and how much they will receive. It has some lawmakers questioning whether either program can survive without drastic changes and college freshmen wondering if the scholarships they receive will still exist by their senior year.
All are trying to understand the ramifications of last year’s reforms, when a reduced HOPE scholarship was put into place to prevent the program from going broke. At the same time, Deal unveiled the Zell Miller Scholarship, named for the former governor who created HOPE nearly 20 years ago.
The new program promised full tuition to the state’s most accomplished students. In contrast, HOPE students receive about $500 less each semester than Zell Miller scholars, depending on the campus they attend.
The gap between the payouts to students will widen in the next few years, because of other reforms lawmakers also passed last year. Among them, the HOPE program starting in two years will no longer be able to dip into reserves to supplement Georgia Lottery revenue, which pays for both scholarships as well as pre-kindergarten programs statewide. Those reserves have kept HOPE afloat.
“HOPE is going to get worse before it gets any better,” said Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, chairman of the state Senate’s higher education committee.