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having need-based scholarship and grant programs,” said
Nickel, who administers HOPE. She said Sonny Perdue,
the current governor, wants to preserve HOPE, “but is also
mindful of the costs, and recognizes we will have to do
something to tighten up loopholes or whatever the issue may
be, to make sure it stays there for the students who deserve it.”
Nickel says the issue of restoring some kind of income cap
is likely to be studied, along with a variation on the theme.
One possibility, she speculated, would be to give all B students
an award—not tied to tuition—that they could use at any
public or private college, with an additional amount going to
students who have financial need.
One outsider who has studied HOPE, Donald Heller of
Pennsylvania State University’s Center for the Study of Higher
Education, said he would point Georgia officials toward
Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars Program, which he called “a
good program that gets it right in terms of need and merit.”
“If the concerns are reining in costs, if they really want
to improve both the equity and efficiency of the program,”
said Heller, “I think the best thing the state of Georgia
could do is implement some form of means testing.” But, he
acknowledged, “It’s not going to be politically popular.”
Heller also questions whether the 3.0 grade requirement
for HOPE might be too high. “Is that GPA excluding people
who could otherwise be successful in college and could really
use the financial assistance in order to afford college?”
University of Georgia economist Cornwell said one
thing the state could do is cut the HOPE award loose from
tuition values. That link “automatically raises the claim on the
funding source,” he said. “And it means the Georgia plan is
going to eventually absorb all the lottery money.” Currently,
about 36 percent of Lottery revenue goes to HOPE. Cornwell
also suggests that the state put an expiration date on HOPE
awards, as many other states have done. Currently HOPE
eligibility covers up to 127 credit hours, but there is no limit
on how long a student can take to amass those credits.
Suzanne Buttram, director of
student financial aid at Georgia
College & State University, said the
easiest solution is to “get back to
basics where HOPE began—tuition
and fees for Georgia residents.”
Buttram, who questions the
wholesale fashion in which other
targeted scholarships have been
added to the HOPE program, said
she would look first at cutting the
book allowance, which now totals
$150 per semester.
Portch said there is a quick and
simple fix for HOPE. “It’s a no-
brainer: You take the fees out of it.
A scholarship that covers tuition is
perfectly adequate. Adding fees to
it is not necessary, long term, and
that would have a very significant
savings. There doesn’t seem to me
to be an overriding rationale for it
supporting anything but tuition.”
Faust, the director of financial aid at Kennesaw State, said
the “word on the street is that somebody’s going to have to go
out there and restrict expenditures. The only way you can do
that is tighten up on eligibility or restrict some benefits. I don’t
know who’s got the guts to stand up and say we’ve got to do it.
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.”
U.S. Senator Miller, the man who
conceived HOPE, said he is reluctant
to give advice on how to stabilize the
program, but speculated nonetheless. He
said the original intent behind having
a state lottery was to give priority to
funding a pre-kindergarten program and
the HOPE scholarship, and that funding
a technology programwas something
that could be done later, or not at all. “I
always thought you’d have to come back
and do away with it (the technology
program),” he said.
“It might be educational to look at how it was built
incrementally as you begin to think about changes,” Miller
added. “We built it step by step as we could afford it. As more
students are covered, and therefore you can’t cover them as
well, perhaps you could look at going back in increments, just
like we raised it in increments.
“It was not born full-grown.”
u
Don Campbell is a freelance writer and a lecturer in
journalism at Emory University.
Georgians are so
protective of HOPE
that in 1998 they
voted for a state
constitutional
amendment barring
any tampering with
the program.
HOPE has “been so successful it’s putting pressure on the revenue side,” said Shelley Nickel,
executive director of the Georgia Student Finance Commission.