Lottery program may not sustain HOPE past 2012

Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship program needs some help of its own to continue providing financial assistance to students at Tech and all state universities.

The Georgia Lottery Program, which funds both HOPE and statewide pre-kindergarten programs, is not growing along with the budgeted allowances to students needing the scholarship.

In the last fiscal year, HOPE funded 216,172 students with a total of $522.8 million. But funding from the state lottery in the last year has grown less than one percent, causing concern for the Georgia Student Finance Commission (GSFC) – the overseeing body for the HOPE scholarship – and danger for the scholarship which has provided billions of dollars to Georgia students since its inception in 1993. Students rely on HOPE to ensure a full education without worrying about the high cost of college, and dips in the tuition funding would affect nearly all Tech students from in-state.

GSFC officials say they are certain that tuition, a major factor in a college education, would not be affected by re-budgeting around the lottery shortcomings and that tuition should still be met by HOPE’s provisions. However, if funding trends continue, book allowances may drop to half the current level by 2012 and possibly altogether by the next year. If the trend is not corrected by 2014, funding for school fees may drop. Current mandatory fees are $718, over half of which is covered for HOPE recipients.

This could be an issue for prospective students in deciding whether to attend Tech for college.

To Josh Wien, first-year CS, HOPE was not a deciding factor in attending Tech, as he was already strongly considering applying. However now that he is at Tech, he feels the impact of attend college. “After getting all the financial aid packages from the schools I had been accepted to, Tech with HOPE was by far the most economical option,” Wien said, “I wouldn’t be financially devastated if HOPE cut book and fee funding. Money is a bit tight right now, so it would just make things a little bit harder.”

Georgia’s student education financial programs are rated highly, in terms of meeting the needs of students pursuing technical, two-year and four-year degrees. Funding like this is in great demand, not only among students, but also for those unemployed throughout the nation.

In Georgia the unemployment rate has reached over 10 percent as of this July. People in the workforce may seek additional technical training or a degree to bolster themselves on the job or improve their chances of being hired, in part because of the funding provided by HOPE.

Georgia saw a similar problem in 2004, when demand for the scholarship was high enough to potentially deplete the program’s reserves within a few years. This prompted the state legislature to implement the requirement for recipients to have a minimum 3.0 GPA in high school, rather than the previous standard of a numerical grade average of 80.

Now legislators and GSFC officials are investigating potential solutions including capping tuition funding by credit hour, which other lottery-backed state financial aid and scholarship programs like Florida have already started. Officials are determining the best course of action as projected enrollment in Georgia’s university system grows to nearly 300,000 students this fall, and 100,000 more students over the decade.

GSFC has set a key task force for fixing the disparity between funding and demand for the HOPE scholarship in the next six to twelve months, an action that could promote college enrollment and improve academic credentials for a workforce struggling in the current economic climate.

The scholarship program has seen problems before with its funding, and it is a task for state lawmakers and education officials to seek the solution for students and an educated workforce. Students like Barrett Ahlers, first-year AE, may see the situation optimistically.

“I’m getting money for good grades,” he said, “and with the economy the way it is, I’m happy more people are able to benefit from the program even if I get less money.”