Photo by David Raji

Representative Jan Jones (R-Milton) — speaker pro tempore of the Georgia House of Representatives — has entered House Bill 801, which would amend Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, to be considered for the 2016 legislative session. This would “boost” in-state STEM students’ HOPE GPAs by half a point, though not on official transcripts.

Currently, in-state students who finish with a 3.0 or above qualify for what is known as the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) scholarship, which was founded in 1993 in an effort to send more students in the state of Georgia to accredited universities. GeorgiaCollege411 reports that in the time since then, the unique scholarship program has awarded over $6.4 billion to over 1.5 million students. Similarly, students who completed high school with a GPA of 3.7 or higher are awarded the Zell Miller Scholarship, which covers 90 percent of the tuition costs, compared to HOPE, which covers 70 percent.

“School is very obviously an expensive cost that most students have to endure, so there’s always an incentive for in-state students to achieve and maintain HOPE or Zell. However, the requirements of the programs like this encourage getting good grades over pursuing difficult majors or programs,” said second-year CHME Katie Robinson.

The HOPE Scholarship program is almost exclusively funded by the Georgia lottery. Prior to a drop in the lottery participation in 2011, the Georgia General Assembly voted to amend the HOPE Scholarship programs to no longer cover the cost of textbooks and living expenses, which explains the decrease in the contribution towards the tuitions of some.

Unfortunately, for some students, maintaining the necessary GPA’s of 3.0 above for HOPE and 3.3 above for Zell Miller in a university setting is difficult.

“The GPA boost that this new bill would provide would from personal experience be extremely beneficial to students’ mental and emotional states and would help with the ridiculous cost of attending college. We could potentially see some drawbacks, however, because with a GPA boost for STEM students, there will be an influx of students pursuing those programs,” Robinson said.

As a result of these concerns, the official report “The Effect of Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship on College Major: A Focus on STEM,” which was formally published in February of 2015, found “consistent evidence that Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship reduced the probability that a young person would complete a bachelor’s degree with a major in a STEM field … [estimating] a 12.6 percent decrease in the number of STEM graduates, with the effects being larger for males than females.” Furthermore, the study analyzed five reasons in addition to HOPE eligibility for why a student would not declare a STEM major at a university in the University System of Georgia.

While the reason for the decrease in a student selecting a STEM major could not decidedly be said to be because of the risk of losing HOPE, the study did conclude that HOPE played an important role in the selection of a major and the type of institution one would attend.

“I am personally not an in-state student, so I am not eligible for the HOPE or Zell Miller scholarships. I think it is a little unfair that students who already have an opportunity for lower tuition costs can have their GPA’s boosted. For instance, internships often times look at the GPA of a candidate, and if the company is not aware of the difference in the GPA of one student over the other because of this bill, it can serve as an unfair advantage. I would hope that eventually the notion behind this bill would be more inclusive of all students,” said third-year CHME Lauren Feher.

However, since the change would only affect GPAs relative to the HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships, employers would not see the adjusted numbers.

The bill proposed would allow for the State Board of Regents to select classes they believe should qualify for the HOPE GPA boost. The bill easily passed in the House of Representatives in late January and is currently at an 86 percent vote for passing in the Senate. It is expected that Governor Deal will sign the bill into law.

“There’s a possibility more students than ever will achieve HOPE status, and either more money would have to be pumped into the program or the amount rewarded would be reduced,” Robinson said. “It would be a blessing to see this go through during my own time at school, though it may jeopardize the longevity of the program.”