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HOPE plan would raise standards
Changes include GPA, course load
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Forsyth County News


Allie Grantham is .08 away from a 3.0 grade-point average, a goal the high school senior expects to meet by graduation.

She said it’s something she’s worked for since she started at Forsyth Central, so she could earn the Georgia Lottery-funded HOPE scholarship for college.

But if a proposal from Gov. Nathan Deal is a success, Grantham and many like her won’t get the full ride they were seeking.

“I was sort of taken back by it big time,” she said of the changes, which would affect students in the fall.

Deal introduced legislation that would continue to award full tuition scholarships to students who earn a 3.7 grade-point average and a 26 ACT score or 1,200 math and verbal SAT score.

These students would be called Zell Miller scholars, which is named after the former governor who created HOPE in 1993.

Students with a 3.0 GPA would receive 90 percent of the tuition rate for fiscal year 2011, saving the state about $300 million, Deal has said.

The tiered approach encourages students to earn higher grades.

The legislation also eliminates funding for books, fees and remedial classes and caps eligible payments at 127 credit hours.

In his announcement, Deal said the lottery program was facing bankruptcy for 2013, noting the changes were necessary “to save Georgia’s prized jewel ... for the next generation of Georgians.”

Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Buster Evans said Deal’s proposal was a necessary cutback.

“You don’t want to see anybody hurt, but the reality is we’ve all been hurt as we’ve had budget adjustments,” he said.

“I think it’s really critical that they’ve retained the ability for at least the students who have a 3.7 or higher to have a substantial portion of their tuition paid.”

While some pushed to make the scholarship based on need, Evans said the proposal is the fairest way for the state to make cuts to HOPE.

“We already had a floor of students who were being cut out of the HOPE scholarship, this may make that floor a little harder to reach, but it will still reward students who work hard,” he said.

But Grantham said for those out of reach of the 3.7 grade-point average, it’s too late.

“My friends ... when they heard it changed, they stopped trying to get HOPE,” she said. “I feel like all of my friends aren’t trying as hard.”

It’s only going to get more difficult for students over the years, as the proposal would require students to take more rigorous high school courses to earn the scholarship down the road.

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

The May 1, 2016, requirements bump the credit expectation up to three advanced courses, and students must take four advanced courses in 2017 to earn the scholarship.

“I think it will make college GPAs a lot higher,” Grantham said. “I think it’ll affect the whole college process with them raising it, because it will be more competitive I think.

"People will be having 3.7s instead of 3.0s, and I just think it will be a lot harder to get into school with the HOPE [requirement] up.”

Evans shared that sentiment, saying the more stringent requirement can “motivate students to do as good as they can.”

“There will be some students, I predict, that this will not make a difference for,” he said. “But there will be some who, when they first enter high school will say, ‘If I really work hard ... I can have a full ride.”

Current college students will also face the changes, as based on their high school GPA and test scores, not recent college transcripts.

"If the proposal factored in current enrollees, we still wouldn't have enough money for HOPE," said Stephanie Mayfield, a spokeswoman for Deal. "This will help preserve the scholarship for years to come."

Many college students, who had assumed they would be grandfathered in, expressed frustration on Facebook and Twitter.

Josh Delaney, Student Government Association president at the University of Georgia, and Corey Boone, Student Government Association president at Georgia Tech, were not pleased.

"We're disappointed with the financial uncoupling of HOPE and tuition," Delaney said. "A flat rate is not flexible, and tuition goes up every year, as expected with the rising cost of services.

"This means the scholarship will help less and less every year, and we're concerned about the long-term effects this will have."

For example, a HOPE student who receives the 90 percent rate would pay $353 at UGA to cover a semester of tuition based on today's rates.

In addition, the student must pay more than $400 in mandatory fees per semester for services such as transportation, health care and student activities.

"We're also disappointed that current students are not grandfathered in," Delaney said. "A lot of students came here based on the expectation that they would receive HOPE if they held up their end of the bargain.

"They shouldn't be penalized by an economic downturn or budgetary issues."

Deal proposed spending about $10 million to offer low-interest loans about 1 percent for students who can't maintain a 3.0.

The loan would be forgiven for those who teach math or science in Georgia's public schools, he said.

Lawmakers passed a similar scholarship program in 2008 but never allocated any money to it.

Delaney and Boone will continue to push for alternative sources of funding and a tiered funding approach for the state's institutions.

The legislation also cuts bonuses for some Georgia Lottery employees and moves the state's pre-kindergarten program from a six-and-a-half hour day to a four-hour day.

Carolyn Crist of the FCN regional staff contributed to this report.