Imagine you could take the wayback machine to 1993 and try to shape the HOPE scholarship based on what we know now about its growth and the state of its finances, but before public expectations were set.
You could report to the governor at the time, Zell Miller, that his brainchild would become wildly popular. You could tell him it would help lower-income students further their education and would keep many of Georgia’s brightest high school graduates in the state for college and beyond.
But you’d also have to tell Miller that HOPE’s promises would, within two decades, far exceed his lottery’s ability to pay for them. You would have to explain that having the Legislature write a blank check from its lottery account, for an ever-increasing amount set by the Board of Regents, had become as unsustainable as third-party-payer health care (another topic of contemporary interest).
And you could offer Miller your services in constructing HOPE to avoid those problems.
You could tell him of a proposal about to be made by one of his successors, a man with whom he worked for years in the state Senate, Nathan Deal. You could tell him the meat of Deal’s plan, as reported by the AJC, is to cap tuition payments at 90 percent of their 2011 levels and stop raising them in tandem with tuition.
You could tell him that this “decoupling” of HOPE and tuition, while painful, was necessary because of the third-party-payer dynamic. You could tell him that HOPE was so popular that across-the-board cuts might be the only politically feasible option in 2011.
Miller, who had won five statewide elections by 1993 and may have foreseen that removing HOPE’s income cap would help him win a sixth in 1994, may have understood that future political dilemma. But he also may have asked: Will Deal’s plan fix HOPE for very long?
You’d tell him you didn’t know, but that chances were good. Then he might ask: What effect would the plan have on those lower-income students and those brightest grads?
Again, you wouldn’t be able to say for sure, but it probably would depend on how high tuition rose — and that yet another increase likely lay ahead.
And then you might speculate that, over time, some of the lowest-income and highest-achieving students might disappear from Georgia’s colleges. And when he frowned, you could offer this alternative, an idea of how you’d design HOPE in 2011 if time and politics would allow for a do-over:
What if Georgia promised “B” students that it would pay the amount of tuition charged by the state’s two-year colleges, such as Georgia Perimeter, and those four-year schools known as “state colleges,” such as Gainesville State? Students could use the money at any college in Georgia, but they would only get as much money as those schools charged for tuition. In 2011, that’s less than $2,700 a year (compared with $7,070 at, say, Georgia Tech).
You could make the promise subject to review if those schools’ tuition rose faster than inflation over, say, five years.
That would leave the state with a good bit of money. After putting some in reserve, you could award extra money to students with, for example, a 3.5 GPA in high school and a set score on the SAT or ACT (you’d have to explain to Miller the grade inflation HOPE caused).
The college GPA requirement would remain a 3.0, so as not to discourage students from pursuing the more difficult majors.
It wouldn’t exactly fit Miller’s vision, but it would provide access to college and help retain the best students.
I wonder what he’d have said.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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