The HOPE scholarship covers the cost of tuition for in-state students attending public institutions in Georgia, in addition to providing stipends for books and fees.
The program was started in 1993 with the goal of increasing student achievement in high school and incentivizing more students to attend college. Since its inception, the idea behind the HOPE scholarship has been adapted and used in several other states, serving as a model for higher education across the country.
During his State of the State address earlier this month, Governor Nathan Deal said that the state would have to make tough choices in order to make HOPE sustainable. On Tuesday, Jan. 25, the Georgia Senate Higher Education committee met for the first time this session to discuss the future of the HOPE scholarship and how the program should be reformed.
“It’s not that the lottery proceeds have declined to the extent that it can’t fund the program. If you look at it the lottery, it has continued to perform very well. It’s just that the demand in the terms of the number of students applying for HOPE has grown so dramatically over the past few years,” said Dene Sheheane, the executive director of government and community relations at Tech.
Lottery deposits have increased annually by 2.75 percent since FY 2000, amounting to approximately $883 million in FY 2010. In contrast, the amount of lottery expenditures totaled approximately $1 billion that year, forcing the state to tap into its lottery reserves to fund the program.
If the state were to continue this rate of expenditure, reserves will be depleted by FY 2013. The Governor’s budget report does not authorize HOPE expenditures beyond what is collected through lottery sales for FY 2012, meaning that legislators must consider HOPE reform this legislative session.
A report issued by the Georgia Student Finance Commission in Aug. recommended that the state legislature eliminate the book stipend along with fee payments. This alone would cut approximately $111 million from the lottery expenditures.
Since then, many suggestions have been put forth by legislators and other stakeholders in the public debate. Among the most popular suggestions include cutting the HOPE scholarship for students attending remedial classes, which have been funded by the program for several years. Several legislators have raised the possibility of adding an SAT requirement to the process in order to raise the academic standards for qualified recipients.
Another proposal that has been put forth by stakeholders is to cut funding for students attending private and for-profit institutions, including Emory University and others like DeVry University and the University of Phoenix. Students at these institutions are currently slated to become eligible for HOPE funding in two years.
There has also been some discussion about the possibility of raising the GPA requirement for students to maintain their HOPE eligibility. This has caused some concern among members of the campus community who believe that this may adversely affect students who attend Institutions like Tech.
“I’m absolutely in every legislative office telling legislators that would unfairly a student like mine at Tech who has accepted a rigorous curriculum. Students should not be penalized for choosing Tech over somewhere else,” Sheheane said.
Some other proposals that have been suggested include a tiered GPA system whereby students within a certain GPA range will receive a predetermined percentage of their tuition covered by the HOPE scholarship.
The Office of Government and Community Relations and several students hosted state Representative Lynn Walker on campus on Tuesday in an effort to hold a discussion about the issues surrounding HOPE and to articulate different viewpoints on how the program should be reformed over the course of the session.
“[Rep. Walker] shared with us what proposals are viable and those that are not very likely to happen… he also told us what is going on currently at the Capitol and we were able to share what we were thinking about the issues,” said Ellie Creel, the undergraduate director of external affairs for SGA.
During the meeting, attendees advocated cutting funding for remedial courses as well as the projected funds for students at for-profit Institutions.
“Frankly, when you look at Mercer and Emory, they have large endowments and they offer large need-based scholarships. I think the citizens of Georgia still have access to these institutions,” said Corey Boone, the undergraduate student body president.
They also spoke against the possibility of raising the minimum GPA requirements, and instead advocated the instatement of an SAT requirement in order to determine eligibility for the program.
“The legislature wants to see this program continue wants to see this program continue in as much a way as possible. They’re going to do everything to keep the program full and as whole as it can be. We’re going to keep a watchful eye on the process and guide them as the legislative session progresses,” Sheheane said.
Any drastic changes made to the HOPE scholarship could affect enrollment at schools within the University System of Georgia. The state legislature will continue to discuss this issue over the coming months during this session, which will continue until sometime in April.