Families in Georgia are tightening the belt when it comes to saving for college. After months of forewarning, Governor Nathan Deal announced his planned changes to the HOPE Scholarship last week.
HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) is Georgia’s unique scholarship and grant program for students at Georgia public and private colleges and universities. It is funded entirely by the Georgia Lottery for Education, which also funds Georgia’s statewide pre-k (prekindergarten) program. For college students who meet its requirements, the HOPE Scholarship pays for tuition, fees, and includes an allowance for books. The program began in 1993, and has assisted 1.4 million students.
As more and more Georgia students became eligible (students must graduate from high school with a B average), the number of scholarships rapidly increased. By October 2000, 500,000 HOPE Scholarships had been awarded, totaling $1 billion, and by 2007 there were over 1,000,000 recipients.
Although the Georgia lottery earnings continue to grow, the costs of the HOPE Scholarship program have not been able to keep up. Georgia residents have known for some time that changes to the HOPE program were inevitable.
Under Deal’s proposed plan, HOPE would pay for full public college tuition for students who earn a 3.7 grade point average and also score 1200 on the SAT. Students with at least a 3.0 grade point average would receive 90 percent of their tuition. There are also proposed cuts in the number of hours per day for the pre-k program. The Georgia House is expected to vote on the plan this week.
Reaction is mixed among students and parents across Georgia. Some students are concerned that the decrease in funding may jeopardize or delay the completion of earning their degree. Others understand that cuts are necessary, but would like to see the changes begin with current graduating high school seniors. A number of others are grateful for any assistance and are ready to adjust their budgets to meet the proposed cuts.
Many have been concerned that there would be no HOPE Scholarship anymore. As a parent of two Georgia high schoolers, I would rather see HOPE diminished than gone for good. At this point we don’t know if our son, a junior, will go to college. We’ve told him to work hard to maintain the requirements for HOPE, and will be grateful for the aid available to him.