Sustaining HOPE: Changes to the Georgia HOPE Scholarship

Jed Applerouth, PhD
March 23, 2011
min read

How many Powerball plays does it take to cover the annual mandatory fees for a student at Georgia State University? 1628. And that’s only for the fees. As the costs of tuition have sky-rocketed in the last several decades, it was only a matter of time before the proceeds from the Georgia Lottery fell short to cover the costs of the HOPE scholarship program.

In 1993 when Zell Miller signed the HOPE scholarship into law, the lottery revenues were more than adequate to cover the costs of tuition, mandatory fees and a book allowance for the HOPE scholarship winners. Each year, the number of recipients grew as did the size of the awards. In 1994-1995, 98,399 students received an average award of $851. In 2002, 212,631 students received an average award of $1,701. In 2010-2011, 238,907 students received an average award of $2,862. (See Hope data here). The cost of HOPE kept rising, but the gambling revenues were not keeping pace.

For 2010-2011, the Georgia Student Finance Commission, which oversees funding of the HOPE scholarship, forecasted a $243 million program deficit, to be followed by a $317 million shortfall in 2012. Emergency meetings were held at the Capitol this summer, and just last week, Governor Nathan Deal signed a new law limiting HOPE and raising the academic bar for the top award winners. These changes begin with the high school graduating class of 2011.

What are the changes to HOPE?

The program will no longer cover books or the mandatory fees, which have been making up an increasingly significant portion of the overall cost of college. Maintaining a high school 3.0 GPA will now allow a student to forego 90% of tuition costs, but any increases in tuition subsequent to freshman year will be passed on to the student. There is no minimum SAT or ACT score requirement to be eligible for this level of the HOPE Scholarship.

To qualify for the 100% tuition waiver and become a “Zell Miller Scholar,” a student will need to maintain a 3.7 GPA and achieve a composite score of 26 on the ACT or a combined Math and Critical Reading score of 1200 on a single administration of the SAT.

Home-schooled students aspiring for the Zell Miller Scholarship must meet the same HS GPA and score requirements as well attain a college GPA of 3.5 or higher during freshman year. Having proven their academic merit outside of a home-schooled environment, these students will then be eligible to receive the scholarship retroactively at the conclusion of their freshman year.

What impact will this have on our students?

First and foremost the 3.7 cutoff will put more pressure on students to earn those A’s. This may actually drive grade inflation, as highly involved parents push for those 89s to become 90s. Additionally, tying the HOPE to SAT and ACT scores will drive more students to prepare for the college assessments.

Adding in the SAT/ACT component may have the unintended consequence of shifting the racial demographics of HOPE recipients. In Georgia, the performance gap between white and black students on the SAT and ACT is significant. In 2010 white students posted average scores of 22.9 on the ACT and combined Math and Critical Reading scores of 1044 on the SAT. In contrast, black students posted average scores of 17.4 on the ACT and 853 on the SAT.

Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on average scored 1086 on the SAT, 23.6 on the ACT. While Hispanics saw an average SAT score of 956 (a weighted average of the Mexican, Mexican American, Puerto Rican and Other Hispanic, Latino or Latin American categories reported) and a 20.1 on the ACT (See SAT State Report, ACT State Report).

Whenever you tie financial awards to SAT/ACT scores you ultimately enter the shadowy area of privileging particular racial/ethnic groups at the expense of others.

Final thoughts

In spite of the changes, the HOPE scholarship will remain a tremendous value to hundreds of thousands of Georgia families each year. Since its inception HOPE has funded scholarships and grants for 1,345,248 students, and the program has been one of the most successful in the country. Even in its diminished form, HOPE will make college more affordable for nearly a quarter of a million students each year and will continue to keep talented students in-state and drive the quality of our educational institutions higher still.

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