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for HOPE increased by
97 percent. The average
SAT score for incoming
freshmen during that
period increased from
1021 to 1032.
“Our academic
reputation has really
improved over the last five
to ten years,” said Terry L.
Faust, Kennesaw’s director
of student financial aid. “All
that has happened during
an incredible growth in the
HOPE program. I think
the type of student we’re
reaching and enrolling is
different from the students
we were enrolling when I
came here twelve years ago.
I have seen great change in
the makeup of our student
body, and I don’t think
HOPE is the only factor,
but I think it’s a significant
factor.”
HOPE also gets credit—or blame—for making the
University of Georgia, the state’s most prestigious public
university, harder to enter. As the requirement of a B average
has worked up through the system, more and more students
have become competitive as applicants to begin at, or transfer
to, UGA (which now ranks in the top 20 public universities in
the annual
U.S. News &World Report
rankings).
By any measure, HOPE has become one of the most
popular and politically untouchable state-aid programs in
history. When the program began, families with annual
incomes of more than $66,000 were ineligible for HOPE. That
income cap was raised to $100,000 after a year, and in 1995
the income cap was removed altogether.
Georgians are so protective of HOPE that in 1998 they
voted for a state constitutional amendment barring any
legislative or political tampering with the program. “HOPE
is an entitlement now,” said University of Georgia economics
professor Christopher Cornwell, who has studied the program
extensively and has raised questions about its economic
efficiency.
But this rather slapdash growth has come at a cost. The
program is now facing long-term funding issues, and no one
wants to shoot Santa Claus. In the wake of cuts totaling more
than $200 million in aid to higher education by the state
legislature, the Georgia Board of Regents inMay was forced
to raise tuition as much as 15 percent for 2003-04. Because
the HOPE scholarship is tied directly to tuition, the hike puts
further pressure on the program’s bottom line.
Revenues from the state lottery, while still rising, are
expected to flatten in the next two or three years, largely
because of competition from lotteries in neighboring
states. The lottery also finances an ambitious and popular
pre-kindergarten program, as well as capital outlays for
technology in education. Meanwhile, HOPE has been
expanded to cover an ever-wider range of student activity fees,
and to reward education majors at both the undergraduate
and graduate levels who promise to teach in Georgia public
schools.
“It is time to begin serious dialogue about bringing some
sanity to this process,” Georgia Lt. Governor Mark Taylor told
the
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
earlier this year. The first step
came this spring when the state legislature created a study
commission to recommend adjustments to the program.
“There is always talk about making changes, but to this
point it’s always been changes to expand the program,” said
Shelley Nickel, executive director of the Georgia Student
Finance Commission, which administers the HOPE
scholarships. “Now we’re at the point where it’s been so
successful it’s putting pressure on the revenue side.”
She added, “Nobody wants to be the one who takes HOPE
away…but we may be tightening things up.”
Any attempt to restrict the programwill have to overcome
a consensus that HOPE—despite the occasional sniping from
researchers in academia who have turned the study of HOPE
into a cottage industry—is a product of uncanny political
imagination.
“Nothing has changed my view that it was a moment
of genius by (then-Governor) Miller, it really was,” said
former University System of Georgia Chancellor Stephen R.
Portch. “And had he asked anyone at the time how to design
it—rather than just announce it—I think it would have been a
lousy program. Because its beauty is its simplicity.
“If you look at any federal financial aid program, they’re
crazy,” said Portch, now a higher education consultant. “You
need a Ph.D. to understand them, and they’re aimed at kids
who didn’t have any parents who went to college. You can’t
explain federal financial
aid—I don’t understand
it and I’ve been in the
field all these years.
But I understand
HOPE: You get a B in
high school, you get
a scholarship. Keep it
in college, you keep
your scholarship. It’s so
simple.”
HadMiller asked
anyone in higher
education for advice,
added Portch, “we would have complicated it. That’s why
it’s politically so attractive, because you’ve got to be able to
describe something in a sound bite that works in a coffee
shop. And this one you can.”
The simplicity that Portch alludes to is reflected in the
steps Georgia has taken to make applying for HOPE an easy
process. The one-page application can be completed in less
than five minutes and can even be filed online. When the
program began, applicants had to first apply for a federal
Pell grant, and the HOPE money would then make up the
difference to cover tuition and fees. This “offset” requirement
was eliminated—at great cost—after complaints from college
HOPE scholarships
made Georgia
the nation’s most
generous provider of
merit-based aid, and
became the model
for 14 other states.
Stephen Portch, former chancellor of the University
System of Georgia, says HOPE works because it was
designed by a politician, not by educators.