Georgia Plan Would Give Top Students Free Tuition
Georgia Plan Would Give Top Students Free Tuition
By: Joye Mercer and
Date: September 30, 1992
Source: Mercer, Joye, and Scott Jaschik. "Georgia Plan Would Give Top Students Free Tuition." Chronicle of Higher Education (September 30, 1992).
About the Author: Joye Mercer and Scott Jaschik are journalists who have written extensively for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Joye Mercer Barksdale (nee Joye Mercer) has also written for the Washington Post and served as the Director of Public Relations for the International Council for the Advancement of Education (CASE). Scott Jaschik left the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2003, and he subsequently became one of the founding editors of an electronic magazine entitled Inside Higher Education. He also writes for the electronic version of Front Page Magazine.
Zell Miller, former governor of the state of Georgia, implemented the HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) initiative both to encourage students to stay in high school through graduation and to inspire them to achieve excellent grades. A lottery-based program was developed to fund the community-college, public, and private four-year college and university scholarships—meaning that a significant portion of lottery proceeds for the entire state would be ear-marked each year for post-secondary scholarship funding as a means of supporting the HOPE programs. The scholarships were intended to be based primarily on the achievement of high grades, rather than strictly by demonstration of financial need. The program was an inclusive one, meaning that students going to vocational or technical schools could get HOPE grants for diploma or certificate programs, and nontraditional or returning students could also be eligible for scholarships or grants even if some time had passed between high school completion and starting college. The HOPE program was also open to students with General Education Diplomas (GEDs), as well as those with traditional high school diplomas.
In order to be considered for a HOPE scholarship in the state of Georgia, a student must have graduated since 1993 if planning to attend a public college or university, and after 1996 if attending a private academic institution. All categories of students must have maintained a "B" or better average in all high school core courses. Those in college preparatory programs are required to achieve a cumulative grade-point average of at least a "B" or 3.0 on a four-point grading scale. For those students engaged in a vocational or technical program while in high school, it is necessary to maintain a "B+" average, or a 3.2 grade-point average on the four-point scale.
HOPE award recipients who enroll at public educational institutions will have their complete tuition bill, as well as HOPE-approved fees paid. They will also receive a stipend toward the purchase of textbooks for each academic session. If HOPE award recipients choose to attend private colleges or universities, the scholarship pays $3,000 yearly for full-time students (those registered for a minimum of twelve credit hours per semester) and $1,500 annually for part-time students who register for at least six credit hours per semester. "Eligibility checkpoints" have been instituted as a means of ascertaining that students are maintaining good grades and making satisfactory academic progress. Failure to meet the cutoffs at any checkpoint results in loss of the scholarship or grant award.
Georgia Gov. Zell Miller last week proposed a new student-aid program that would provide two years of free tuition at a public college for any Georgia student with good grades and a family income of less than $66,000.
To be eligible for the grants, high-school graduates must have at least a 3.0-point average in a college preparatory curriculum, or at least a 3.2 in any other curricular track. As freshmen, they would receive grants equal to the annual tuition at any Georgia public college.
As sophomores, the students would qualify to receive "forgivable loans" equal to public-college tuition if they had earned a 3.0 GPA as freshmen. If they maintained the average as sophomores, the loan would be forgiven. Otherwise, it would have to be repaid.
Annual tuition is $1,791 at Georgia's public universities, $1,341 at its four-year colleges, and $1,017 at two-year colleges.
Jerry Davis, who conducts a study of state student-aid programs for the National Association of State Scholarship and Grant Programs, said the Georgia program would be open to a larger segment of the population, based on wealth, than any other state effort. "That would probably take in 90 or 95 per cent of Georgia's college-bound students in terms of the income level alone," he said.
Said Governor Miller: "This new scholarship program is second to none anywhere in this country."
The program, called the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally Grant Program, is contingent upon voters' approving a statewide lottery in November. State officials estimated that the program would cost $40-million, an amount that Governor Miller says can be earned through the lottery.
The state projected that as many as 90,000 Georgia students would be eligible for grants.
Private colleges would also benefit under the Governor's proposal. Currently, Georgia provides $1,000 a year for the education of any Georgia resident at a private college in the state. The new proposal would raise that amount to $1,500—without any requirement of students' having a certain grade-point average.
H. Dean Propst, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, called the program "an extraordinary proposal" that would improve Georgia's below-average college-going rate.
Some observers wondered if the grant proposal was an attempt to improve the lottery's chances of passage, but one source said polls consistently had shown that 60 to 65 per cent of Georgia's voters support the lottery, which was a main plank in Mr. Miller's 1990 campaign for Governor.
However, some educators were not optimistic that a lottery would adequately finance college grants.
"If you assume that there will be a lottery, then that use of the proceeds I would wholeheartedly endorse," said Joe Ben Welch, president of Middle Georgia College. "However, I'm not sold on the lottery approach to start with. I'm not sold on the economics of it, because you have to sell millions of dollars in tickets to produce the revenue."
Robert K. Ackerman, president of Wesleyan College, said Governor Miller was to be commended for the scholarship plan. "This man has a real sense of vision. It's remarkable that this is happening at a time when state budgets are in bad shape throughout the country," he said.
Mr. Ackerman said he could not comment on how he would vote on the lottery proposal, which is opposed by many leaders of the Methodist Church, with which Wesleyan is affiliated. He said, however, that he would not join in the leaders' public opposition to the lottery.
Student leaders at Georgia colleges had varying reactions to the plan. Darren M. Strader, editor of The Technique, the student newspaper at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said he thought the scholarships would be a "great incentive" for students to work hard in high school and college.
He said he was attracted to the idea because it would place emphasis on raising academic standards. "Let's face it, Georgia high schools aren't the best in the nation," he said.
However, Andrew Vanlandingham, secretary of the Student Government Association at the University of Georgia, said he was troubled by the proposal because the scholarships would be available only to those with good grades. "What about the plain, average student," he said. "When I was in high school, a lot of the above-average students were already getting scholarships."
The HOPE programs have become something of a gold standard, as well as a sometimes controversial issue, across the nation. For the academic institutions of Georgia, the program has had significant benefits. Thousands of students have opted to continue their educations in Georgia rather than attending out-of-state colleges and universities. According to data published by the state, some three-quarters of a million students have benefited from HOPE scholarships and grants since 1993. The University of Georgia has experienced a renaissance, transforming itself from a school with an extremely poor nationwide academic reputation to one of reputed excellence. Families are spared extreme financial stresses while being able to assure an in-state college or university education for their children.
In addition to Georgia, more than twelve other states have instituted HOPE, or nearly identical, scholarship and grant programs in which financial awards for in-state college and university studies are based on merit rather than simply on financial need. A federal tuition tax credit, called the HOPE Tax Credit, has been created as another means of making it a bit easier for parents and families to finance post-secondary educations for their children.
Over time, there have been several changes in the HOPE program that have caused some challenges and financial hardship for the state of Georgia. The first challenge arose when the income ceiling for scholarship applicants was removed, opening availability to students from the wealthiest families. Then, stipends were added for books and fees. These three changes greatly widened the pool of potential recipients and exponentially increased the cost to the state of the HOPE programs—outpacing the revenues generated by the state lottery system. A limit on fee and book stipends was proposed, but met with little public or legislative support. One of the ironies involved in using state lottery proceeds to fund merit-and not income-based scholarships is that the lottery is traditionally played by the poorest members of society. In effect, then, the poorest residents of Georgia are also those most likely to be funding (however indirectly) the scholarships that may be going to some of the wealthiest families in the state.
The addition of standardized test scores, such as SAT results, to the algorithm for award determination also has been suggested as a way to limit the HOPE applicant pool. It was hoped that such a requirement might also serve to boost standardized test scores in Georgia, which typically ranks near last place in the nation in that regard. Georgian citizens didn't like this proposal. In addition, it received significant negative public commentary from some Georgia politicians, who expressed concern that such a requirement would negatively impact minority and economically under-privileged students. These students traditionally come from the poorest (financially and academically) school districts and, therefore, also achieve the lowest standardized test scores, based on published statistical and demographic data. Several states that have instituted the SAT score cutoff for scholarship determination have been involved in lawsuits alleging that the arbitrary cutoffs discriminate against minority and impoverished students who traditionally achieve lower test rankings. The use of the cutoffs, it is contended, unfairly limits the educational opportunities for those categories of students.
The people of Georgia, as well as those in other states with HOPE or similar programs, publicly support retaining the programs. Professors at the University of Georgia report that their students have become far more focused on learning and on achieving and maintaining good grades than has ever been reported before. Students are believed to be developing better study habits while in high school, in an effort to achieve a grade-point average that will merit the awards, and they are carrying those behaviors into college in order to retain their funding. All in all, institutions such as the University of Georgia report that they are enrolling students who are better prepared academically for post-secondary studies than they have been in the past. Based on data published in Georgia, the overall grade-point average of in-state students, both while in high school and while attending college or university, has risen significantly—and this is considered by the general public to be sufficient reason to do what is reasonable, necessary, and possible to maintain HOPE.
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