HOPE revenue to fall short of demand

Students receiving the HOPE scholarship may soon see additional cuts in their award amounts. By the 2014 fiscal year, HOPE scholarship amounts could dwindle as the Ga. Lottery’s revenues fail to keep up with the demand for funding.

This fiscal year, the Ga. Student Finance Commission projects the state will spend about $924.9 million on HOPE awards and pre-kindergarten subsidies; however, the state lottery will only generate about $846.1 million in revenues.

The commission expects that the difference can be temporarily covered using reserve funds, although new rules enacted last year that prohibit the reserves from dropping below 50 percent of the previous year’s proceeds will inhibit supplemental funding for HOPE in only two to three years. According to a presentation given by the Commission, this would lead to HOPE covering only 50 percent of tuition at a research university like Tech in 2015.

The inability of the Ga. Lottery to keep up with soaring enrollment is the primary cause of funding shortages. More than 256,000 students received a HOPE scholarship last year, up from about 200,000 a decade ago. Lottery revenues have not risen significantly in several years, much too slow to sustain the continued rise in enrollment.

Despite the looming cuts, the laws governing HOPE are expected to remain the same.

“At this early stage of the session, there are no plans among legislative leaders to change HOPE,” wrote Dene Sheheane, Executive Director of the Office of Government and Community Relations, in an email.

Sheheane wrote that his office would monitor any potential changes to the HOPE scholarship and advocate on behalf of the Institute in matters affecting its students, if necessary. Student leaders are also watching the situation carefully.

“Without all the options on the table, SGA will work for the interest of the students,” said Marina Leynse, Director of External Affairs for Undergraduate SGA.

SGA plans to react to any changes affecting Tech students.

“We plan to talk with legislators and lobby at the capitol if or when [a] bill gets moved there,” Leynse said.

Some legislators have fought to protect current HOPE scholars from cuts, despite the prevailing sentiment that awards should be lessened to expand the amount of students who can receive awards.

The attempt to add a grandfather clause for current students failed last year, but legislators are hopeful they may successfully add one if further cuts are made in the future. Many current students support such a clause, citing the necessity of the aid in making education accessible to them.

“As a matter of good policy, our state needs more college graduates. And as a matter of fundamental fairness, we owe it to our current HOPE scholars to keep our promise to them as best as we can,” wrote State Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur) on his web site.

The HOPE scholarship program was significantly modified last year in light of similar concerns over sustainability. Previously, HOPE covered full tuition plus a stipend for books and fees to all students maintaining a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Now, only students with at least a GPA of 3.3 receive full funding, from a program named the Zell B. Miller Scholarship. Those receiving the Zell scholarship would be immune from any cuts in 2014.