The day is still early, but I am already getting e-mails from folks about today’s AJC analysis of the new Zell Miller Scholarships created by Gov. Nathan Deal last year when he retooled HOPE.
The new scholarship — which only goes to college students who had high marks and high SAT scores in high school — “favors those students who live in Atlanta’s affluent suburbs,” according to the AJC analysis. (The paper relied on Open Record requests to get the data)
The AJC reports:
● Schools in the five most populous metro Atlanta counties — Cobb, DeKalb, Fayette, Fulton and Gwinnett — graduated almost half of the students eligible for the Zell Miller award. The proportion tipped beyond when a smaller metro county, Forsyth, was added, even though those six counties account for just one-third of the state’s high school seniors.
● Metro Atlanta students from seven ZIP codes, including those for Alpharetta, Marietta and Lawrenceville, received a total of $8 million in Zell Miller Scholarships. That’s about 15 percent of the money in the program awarded by mid-January. The average award for ZIP codes was $75,566, with some receiving far less.
● All of the 15 high schools graduating the most Zell Miller scholars are within about 45 miles of Atlanta.
A regular AJC reader sent me this note about the analysis.
For while it evidently is true from your stats that one third of those qualifying for the Zell Miller Scholarships are from a six-county area, your use of the word “favor” spins the definition of the word. Favor suggests with special advantage. Qualify – the meeting of stated eligibility requirements.
And unfortunately as a result, the use of favor gives a reader like myself who looks for our AJC reporting the news without a prejudice slant, reason to question the balance of the article. For while what you presented was well done, that statement gave me cause to look throughout the balance of the article for hidden arguments pushing for a change in the definition of the program. What I would expect and appreciate from a piece like this, is simply the giving of facts and opinions supporting the many various opinions that exist on what would serve the state best in terms of providing for its future leaders and workforce.
I am not sure that I agree that the use of the word “favor” undermines the balance of the story, but judge for yourself when you read it.
I have already stated my concerns about the fairness of the Miller Scholarships. The qualifications 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.
Here is an excerpt of Sunday’s AJC story by Kristina Torres and Laura Diamond, but please try to read the full piece before commenting:
Those most likely to afford college without the state’s financial help are benefiting the most from the full-tuition scholarship, while students from low-income homes and the first in their families to attend college are least likely to get it, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Deal defends the scholarship. His spokesman, Brian Robinson, said the governor “will climb any mountain, swim any river, cross any desert when it comes to finding ways to give every hardworking student a chance to go to college.”
Others question the way the scholarships are being given. During debate over the new program some critics argued it would benefit only a small number of the state’s students even though it is funded by the Georgia Lottery through tickets sold statewide.
The Zell Miller award pays all tuition for the state’s highest-achieving students. Lawmakers created it to counter the diminished payouts of Georgia’s popular HOPE scholarship, which is available to more students but pays less toward tuition.
Zell Miller scholars must graduate high school as the valedictorian or salutatorian, or with at least a 3.7 grade-point average and a 1200 on the SAT’s math and reading sections. While in college they must maintain a 3.3 GPA. HOPE scholars must maintain a 3.0. So far, 11,600 Zell Miller scholars receive payments through the program.
Some experts said the distribution of Zell Miller Scholarships was predictable, given that metro Atlanta boasts the state’s top high schools and the most affluent communities.
“I think this is somewhat expected, but going forward it raises policy implications,” said Alan Essig, executive director of the nonpartisan Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, which has suggested changes to the program. “How much of the limited lottery funds should go to the wealthiest families in the state? What we have are middle- and upper-class entitlements.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog