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Changes to HOPE sinking in
Many high school seniors left in college limbo
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Forsyth County News


Kaley DeVito was considering attending the University of West Georgia, but is instead looking in a different direction.

Lindsay Burnell is in similar situation and wishing she had another year to prepare for college.

The South Forsyth High School seniors are among the many members of the class of 2011 who are adjusting to the recent changes to the HOPE Scholarship.

The adjustments mean students must earn a 3.7 grade-point average and either a 1,200 math and verbal SAT score or 26 ACT score to qualify for a full scholarship.

Students with a 3.0 GPA or higher and similar test scores, who were previously eligible, will instead have 90 percent of their tuition covered.

“I’m more likely to go out of state now,” said DeVito, who has a 3.2 GPA.

Thanks to a college savings program in which her parents participated while living in Florida, DeVito is eligible for full tuition coverage there.

"I’m a Florida prepaid student, so I’m looking more at Florida schools now," DeVito said.

At nearly a 3.6 GPA, a frustrated Burnell will just miss the cutoff for a 100 percent HOPE Scholarship. She was surprised by how suddenly the changes happened.

A lacrosse player, Burnell said she would have spent less time on sports and volunteer work if she had known a year earlier.

“I wish I had more time,” she said. “It bums me out that I’m not going to have ... one extra point to get that whole thing.

“I think I would have focused a lot more and tried to get my grades up higher than what they were.”

A lot of students are saying the same thing, said Bob Carnaroli, counselor at West Forsyth High School.

“It just kind of snuck up on everybody,” he said. “It’s going to be a definite hit on families.”

Gov. Nathan Deal has said the changes to HOPE will save the state about $300 million.

In addition to lowering tuition coverage, the move also eliminates funding for books and student fees.

The 90 percent coverage also doesn’t account for the tuition hikes expected this fall.

With graduation approaching in May, even students within fractions of a point have no time to add another class, move to an honors course, or take an online class.

While GPAs are verified over the summer, Carnaroli said between at least 75 to 100 West students who had a 3.0 GPA or higher will not meet the 3.7 threshold to earn 100 percent of HOPE.

“You’ll see kids and families having to make other decisions about where they’re going to go to school, and possibly not staying on campus, living at home, delaying school or maybe not going at all,” he said.

“It just depends on where your family sits financially and where you stand.”

To save money, students who were once planning to enroll at the University of Georgia this fall may instead opt to attend Georgia Perimeter College or Gainesville State College to get core credits before transferring.

For students who do have a 3.7 GPA, some may find themselves taking the SAT or ACT again if they didn’t score high enough the first time.

“I’ve already had some kids and parents inquiring,” Carnaroli said. “There are still a couple of dates left through June when they can take the test.”

Qualifying for HOPE likely will get only more difficult in the future.

Students graduating after May 1, 2015, must receive credit from two advanced courses, including math, science, foreign language, International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement classes.

Those graduating a year later must take three advanced courses, and the class of 2017 must take four to earn the scholarship.

But students graduating in 2015 and beyond have one advantage current students didn’t -- time.

For current students, like Burnell, the calculators are out.

“It changed so suddenly and my dad had to recalculate everything and he said there’s not enough to have the difference,” she said. “Instead of going to Savannah College of Art and Design, I’m going to Georgia Southern so I can make up the difference.

"Because even after you put everything together for tuition, you still have art supplies. It’s just too expensive all around.”