Ask most Georgians what HOPE means, and the answer will likely be “that college scholarship program.” Singular. In fact, HOPE Scholarships are a collection of six different programs, the largest of which is quickly becoming a victim of its own success.
In 1993, the vision set in motion by Gov. Zell Miller and the General Assembly was to cover full tuition at a state college or university for Georgia students who earn a 3.0 Grade Point Average (GPA). It was a startling success from the beginning. In its first year it served more than 42,000 students.
Over the years, other programs have been added to the basic HOPE Scholarship. The six HOPE programs funded by the Georgia Lottery are:
· The general HOPE Scholarship, which provides partial tuition funding for Georgia students who graduate high school with a GPA between 3.0 and 3.69.
· The Zell Miller Scholarship for high-achieving students that provides full tuition payment for those with a 3.7 GPA at high school graduation. They must maintain a 3.3 GPA to keep the scholarship.
· The Zell Miller Grant, a merit-based program available to Georgia residents pursuing a certificate or diploma. A recipient must maintain a minimum 3.5 cumulative postsecondary GPA to remain eligible for full-standard tuition assistance while enrolled at a Zell Miller Grant eligible college or university in Georgia.
· The HOPE Grant, available to Georgia residents who earned a General Education Development (GED) diploma after June 30, 1993, awarded by the Technical College System of Georgia. The Grant provides a one-time $500 HOPE award that can be used toward tuition, books or other educational costs at an eligible college or university in Georgia.
· A Strategic Workforce Development Grant for students enrolled in studies deemed important to the Georgia economy.
· The HOPE GED Grant, available to those who earn a General Education Development diploma.
The Lottery also funds a voluntary pre-kindergarten program (Pre-K) open to any four-year-old.
The diverse programs of the HOPE Scholarships have served more than 1.7 million students with assistance worth more than $8 billion, but increased demand and rising costs have limited the state’s ability to offer full tuition to everyone.
In 2011 the General Assembly, reacting to a funding gap created by unanticipated demand, enacted significant reforms to HOPE, but the changes had consequences. Because academic standards for obtaining and keeping HOPE were raised dramatically, many students were forced out of the program. What’s more, the number receiving full-tuition scholarships to colleges and universities plunged 89 percent from 102,311 in 2010-11 to 10,809 the next year, when most of the reforms went into effect.
Once again Georgians need to consider ways to keep all the HOPE Scholarships financially sound for coming generations of students.