Against All HOPE

You know your state’s scholarship program is in trouble when it reaches the N.Y. Times. In case you are not well-versed in the public embarrassments of the educational system of Georgia, since 1993 my state has had a Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) scholarship. Any Georgia high-school student with a 3.0 GPA is awarded HOPE, and to keep the scholarship all the student has to do is maintain a 3.0 GPA. The scholarship can only be applied towards tuition at a college in-state, and here the deal gets pretty sweet: HOPE will pay for 100% of the tuition at any Georgia public college and will pay for roughly $3000-6000 a year of the tuition at any private in-state college. Where does all this money come from? The scholarship program is paid for in-full by the Georgia lottery. Thus, Georgians pay for other Georgians to go to college while having fun legally gambling. What could possibly go wrong?

Short answer: the lottery system can no longer foot the bill. Local politicians are scrambling to solve this problem in a way that will keep all constituents happy. That does not seem possible. Here are the most “popular” solutions:
  • Raise the minimum GPA requirement–both to first obtain the scholarship as well as to keep the scholarship. Naturally, this is problematic. Critics say raising the academic requirements will deny worthy, financially-disadvantaged students a college education; additionally, this method is said to reward further the “rich, smart” (and critics of this solution always pair those two adjectives) kids who don’t really need the scholarship money. There is one last problem with this solution: raising the minimum GPA requirement–at least at the high-school level–will only encourage the practice of inflating GPAs. It will also “justify” the actions of the students who cheat to get the scholarship and the teachers who cheat to keep their jobs. See Georgia’s recent public embarrassment with the CRCT to validate THIS comment.
  • Minimize the amount of money currently awarded to students. The clear issue with this is, again, the poorer student will get the short end of the stick. Without a promise of a full-tuition-ride that student would not be able to attend college. As for the “rich, smart” student, lowering his scholarship amount will only encourage him to leave the state for an equally-expensive (or even perhaps less-expensive) opportunity. For Lord knows, if he really is rich and smart he can afford–one way or another–to go out of state.
  • Take the student’s major into account. Since labs and math courses are so “difficult,” science majors should perhaps only have to maintain a 2.7 GPA to keep HOPE. And since the arts like communications and psychology are so “easy”, we should require those students to maintain a 3.3 GPA. This is perhaps the most ridiculous suggestion of them all. First, very few students know when they start college what their major will be. Second, this encourages students who perhaps are not that studious or even that scientifically inclined to take science courses simply because the GPA demands are lower. This bodes well.
As is true with any political issue, there are many interesting little “facts” being swept under the rug. Below are some changes I think should be enacted. I am not claiming that these changes will be enough to fix the current deficit.
  • Do not award the HOPE scholarship to students enrolled in remedial courses. If a university student is in a remedial course, by definition the student is not performing at the college-level. So why give the student money to attend college when he’s not ready? It makes no sense. And talk about unfair–why should Jimmy and Katie both be given full rides when Katie’s reading Heidegger’s “Being and Time” and Jimmy’s reading “Bozo Bit the Balloon”? To get the scholarship, the students need a 3.0 in high-school-level courses. To maintain the scholarship, the students should need a 3.0 in college-level courses, not high-school-level courses conveniently offered by a college.
Surely this must be an exception? How many students are in remedial courses? According to theĀ Atlanta Journal Constitution, roughly 23000 Georgia college students are in remedial courses. That’s 23,000 students times $3,000 a year (we’ll assume for now they’re all in private schools since that is cheaper HOPE-wise) equals $69,000,000. The bill gets higher, though: according to the same article the University System of Georgia spends $22,000,000 a year running these remedial courses. So, the total is really closer to $91,000,000 (if my arithmetic is correct).
  • Do not allow students who have lost the scholarship to regain HOPE. That’s right. There’s this magical loop-hole in the system. According to UGA’s office of financial aid:
    “If you lost the HOPE Scholarship after your freshman year due to your grade point average dropping below a 3.0, you are eligible to reapply for HOPE at the 60th or 90th attempted semester hour, provided your cumulative grade point average is a 3.0.”

How many students currently receiving HOPE are on their “second chance”? Sadly, I could not find statistics anywhere; however, the fact that they exist is disgusting. If you were fired from a job due to inadequacy, would you honestly believe that you could reapply for the position a year later and get your job back?

  • Add a minimum SAT/ACT score to the list of requirements. HOPE is the only scholarship I can think of that is awarded to incoming freshman and does not consider SAT/ACT scores. [In truth, HOPE does require home-schooled students and students from other unaccredited high schools to submit SAT/ACT scores—the 3.0 only applies to kids in accredited Georgia high schools.] Honestly, though, I do not see an additional SAT/ACT requirement in HOPE’s future. Why? It would reveal the corruption within the rest of the system. A 3.0 average in one county’s public school system would be shown to be grossly inequivalent to a 3.0 average in another county’s public school system. It would also strengthen the divide between the public school students and the “rich, smart” private school students. So, while it seems completely logical, it’s just never going to happen.

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