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financial aid officials and politicians. Needy students now can
apply for both the Pell and the HOPE.
The simplicity is also apparent to students who are
receiving HOPE, or who are trying to qualify or re-qualify for
it. They call it pressure.
TimGramling, a junior economics major here at Georgia
College & State University, attended summer school this year
in an effort to get his grade point average back to a 3.0 when
he is re-evaluated for HOPE in the fall. He received HOPE
for two years, then lost it for reasons he attributes mainly to
a medical condition. His GPA going into summer school is a
tantalizingly close 2.98.
“The problem is that the pressures of learning how to study
in college come at the same time (in your freshman year) that
you’re worrying about keeping your grades up for HOPE,”
said Gramling.
Chris Koch, of Roswell, a student last spring at Georgia
Perimeter College, a two-year college in the Atlanta suburb
of Dunwoody, had a 3.75 high school GPA, and didn’t worry
about the academic requirement for HOPE. But a lot of his
classmates did. “It was a big topic in the last six months of high
school,” said Koch, who will be a bio-medical engineering
major and a junior at Georgia Tech this fall. “There definitely
were a large number of my classmates under pressure to
maintain their GPA. A lot of kids I went to school with came
from large families. You’re talking about a lot of money if
there are three or four kids in college. I probably have 25 or 30
friends where it was dictated: If you can maintain HOPE, you
can go to college. Otherwise, you’re on your own.”
In Koch’s case, his parents sawHOPE as a chance to save
money after having paid to send their son to a private high
school. He had considered the University of Pennsylvania,
but found that it was going to cost $37,500 a year. “When I
looked at the dollars and cents,” he said, “it didn’t warrant the
additional outlay, when I was already from here. All other
things being equal, HOPE certainly had an influence on me
staying in state.”
While students and their parents tend to see HOPE in
black and white terms, academic researchers are more likely
to see shades of gray. They have crunched a lot of data and
have come up with somewhat different conclusions: One is
that HOPE has had only marginal success in improving access
to college and improving academic achievement; the other is
that HOPE has succeeded broadly in curbing the brain-drain
of students to out-of-state colleges and has demonstrably
improved academic performance within the state.
A team of researchers led by Cornwell and colleague David
Mustard at the University of Georgia, for example, found that
HOPE may have produced some “unintended consequences”:
students taking fewer classes per term in order to delay their
time to graduation; withdrawing from difficult classes at a
higher rate; taking less difficult classes and majors, and taking
more classes during summer school, when grades are typically
higher.
Cornwell’s team also documented what it calls the
“distributional inequity” of the “implicit” lottery tax, finding
that counties in Georgia with relatively large shares of African
Americans, low-income and/or poorly educated people spend
relatively more on lottery tickets, thus bearing the largest share
of the lottery burden.
On the other hand, researchers
at Georgia State University found
in a study of HOPE scholarship
“borderline” recipients that they
take more courses, make better
grades and are more likely to
graduate in four years than their
peers who didn’t get the HOPE.
“That’s my definition of academic
performance,” said GSU Professor
Gary Henry, who headed the study.
Thomas Pavlak, associate
director UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute
of Government, does not agree with
the notion that HOPE is a model of
economic inefficiency. From his surveys of UGA students, he
said, he is convinced that some of themwouldn’t have been
able to attend college without HOPE, or would have gone out
of state if they had been able.
“There’s a lot of these kids that, had they gone out of state,
might have been lost to the state,” said Pavlak. “We had been
importing educated talent for a decade (before HOPE). We
had to develop our own native talent. So it’s been a good
economic investment.”
While researchers may disagree on the economic or
academic nuances of HOPE, the underlying debate is about
merit versus need, and it is that issue that is most likely to
create a furor if any major restrictions on the program are
proposed.
Stripped to its essentials, the issue is whether it is good
policy for lottery players to finance a college education for
families who can afford to pay for it themselves, and who
would do so anyway if the HOPE scholarship did not exist.
Georgia will spend more than $441 million on HOPE
in the next fiscal year, but has only one small need-based
financial aid program, a federal-state matching effort called
LEAP (Leveraging
Educational Assistance
Partnership).
“This is one of the
great deals of all time
for a middle- to upper-
income, non-lottery-
playing voter,” said
Cornwell of the political
appeal.
The argument for
addressing need before
merit is summed up
by Gary Orfield, co-
director of the Civil
Rights Project at Harvard
University, who wrote
earlier this year in
Trusteeship
, the magazine
of the Association of
Governing Boards
of Universities and
U.S. Senator Zell Miller introduced HOPE scholarships
when he was governor of Georgia.
Ten years after Georgia
launched the HOPE
scholarships, the
nation’s most ambitious
merit-based state
college-aid program is
becoming a victim of its
own success.