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Colleges, “Higher education’s
paramount value must be
equal opportunity. We must
not allow our excellent
system of higher education
to become an instrument for
perpetuating and reinforcing
Those who favor a
scholarship without regard to
family income offer several
rebuttals. Former Chancellor
Portch, for example, believes
that the federal government should be responsible for need-
based aid and the states should be free to tailor their financial
aid programs as they wish.
“It’s a scholarship, and if it’s a scholarship, students should
not be punished because of their parents’ earnings,” said
Portch, adding, “I’ve become rather tired of the needs-versus-
merit debate, because I don’t think it’s an either-or debate. I
think you have to have both.”
Henry, the Georgia State University professor,
acknowledges that the HOPE program is “clearly inefficient
from an economics standpoint,” because money is being paid
to students who would otherwise pay for college themselves.
But he contends that flaw is potentially offset by the greater
levels of effort that students put out to get the grade point
average they need.
“Economists say it’s inefficient, but public policies don’t
always have to be efficient to be good public policies,” said
Efficient or inefficient, good public policies have to be paid
for. That is the challenge facing Georgia officials as they assess
HOPE, and there is no shortage of opinions on what needs to
be done.
“Nationally, the state of Georgia gets beat up about not
“It’s a political hot potato—
but something has to be done
pretty soon or we’re going
to see some real serious
budgetary problems.”
—Terry L. Faust,
Kennesaw State University
Georgia’s HOPE Scholarships
April 2009
National CrossTalk’s
last article about Georgia’s
popular HOPE Scholarships (summer 2003), a number of
changes have been made to keep HOPE spending within the
bounds of the program’s funding source, which is the Georgia State
In fall 2003, Governor Sonny Purdue appointed a commission
to study the problem.
The following spring the
commission reported that
the funding required for
the HOPE scholarship
winners would indeed
exceed the lottery’s
projected revenues.
The commission
recommended tightening
eligibility rules. Georgia
lawmakers agreed and
enacted a series of
changes. The changes
were adopted on the last
day of the 2004 legislative
session, after what one
education official politely
called a “contentious” debate.
The most important change was to take the compiling of high
school grade point averages out of the hands of individual high
schools and give it to the Georgia Student Finance Commission,
which administers the HOPE scholarships, as well as other state
scholarship and grant programs.
Some local high schools, wanting to help their graduates attain
the 3.0 GPAs needed to be eligible for HOPE, did not count courses
the students failed or dropped. And they were including such “soft”
courses as physical education and driver training.
The rules set by the Student Finance Commission give credit only
for “academic core” courses—English, mathematics, science, social
science and foreign language. All “attempted” courses are counted,
including those that students have failed or dropped.
As a result of these and other changes, the number of HOPE-
eligible high school students has been reduced by about one-third.
“The most significant change was the change in the GPA method,”
said David V. Lee, vice president for strategic research and analysis
for the Georgia Student Finance Commission.
HOPE is popular with campus officials.
“It enables a large percentage of our students to have their
tuition paid,” said Ron Day, financial aid director at Kennesaw State
University. About 7,000 of Kennesaw State’s 25,000 students hold
HOPE scholarships.
Critics of merit-based financial aid programs remain skeptical
about HOPE. “Nothing in the changes they made has altered the
basic problems,” said Donald E. Heller, director of the Center for
the Study of Higher Education, at Pennsylvania State University. “If
anything, they push HOPE even more in the direction of a sop to the
middle class.”
David Lee disagrees.
In 2003-04, he noted, $117
million in federal Pell grants
went to students who held
HOPE scholarships. “If we
had a need-based system,
I’m not sure we would see a
larger pool of students,” Lee
Lee worries more about
the program’s financial
future. Although tightening
the eligibility standards has
reduced the number of students who qualify for HOPE, it is not a
permanent solution.
“At some point, expenditures will again exceed revenues,” he
warned, “and we’ll have to re-evaluate the program again.”
—William Trombley
In spring 2004, a
commission appointed by
Governor Sonny Purdue
reported that the funding
required for HOPE
scholarship winners
would exceed the
Georgia State Lottery’s
projected revenues.
As a result of changes
to the program, the
number of HOPE-
eligible high school
students has been
reduced by about