Changes in HOPE

In a previous post, I highlighted the issue surrounding Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship and some of the proposed changes (both the politicians’ proposals as well as my own). Well, the “bill” has officially been written. Here are the major proposed changes:

  1. Students with a 3.7 GPA as well as a 1200+ on the SAT (equivalent 26+ on the ACT) will receive a full tuition scholarship if they attend a public college or university in-state.
  2. Students with a 3.0 GPA will receive 90% of the standard tuition rate if they attend a public college or university in-state.
  3. Funds for books and remedial courses will be eliminated.
    Frankly, this seems like a relatively-fair set of changes. As mentioned previously, HOPE was the only scholarship I could think of awarded to students which did NOT consider SAT or ACT scores. Since colleges consider those scores in determining whether or not a student should be accepted, it seems only natural the scholarships paying for colleges take those into account as well. It is estimated that the number of students who fall into category (1) is roughly 10% of the students currently receiving full-tuition scholarships.
    As for the other two main points, (3) was a topic I brought up much earlier and certainly seems easy to defend. Remedial classes are for students who–for some reason–have been accepted to college without being academically prepared for it. It would be equivalent to paying someone to do a job for which they are completely unqualified or paying someone a full salary with benefits while you train them for 6-12 months (presuming remedial classes are 1-2 semesters long). As for (2), while it is sad that some students who a year ago would have received a full scholarship now do not, 90% of tuition vs. 100% tuition is really not that severe of a cut. At the University of Georgia (Athens campus), a student taking a 12-hour academic load is charged $4368 a semester for in-state tuition. Under the “new” HOPE plan, they must pay $436.80 a semester. At Georgia State and Georgia Tech, it’s $3535 a semester (for 15-hour academic load), meaning $353.50 a semester for students to pay. So, certainly, while books and student fees and school supplies and housing, etc. add up (sometimes frighteningly quickly), students have less than $1000 to cover a year for their educations. Assuming they complete their four-year degree in four years, that’s less than $4000. This does not seem like a “deal-breaker.”
    Oh, but it is! Shockingly, item (3) seems to be mentioned hardly at all; however, (1) and (2) are causing quite a stir. This semester I have regular contact with students in the college of education, and I asked them about their opinions on the changes to HOPE. Overall, the response was vehemently negative. Individual comments included:
    • “It’s unfair that you only get a full scholarship if you keep a 3.5 or better. If you have a 3.5 or better, you can get scholarship money elsewhere. HOPE was designed to give full rides to kids who could not get scholarships anywhere else.”
    –According to the omniscient Wikipedia, “The program is entirely merit-based, meaning that a student’s ability to pay for his or her own education is not a factor in determining if he or she receives it.” As it should be! This is a scholarship! If all scholarships worked under the guise of “The ‘smart’ kids could get money else-where,” then the `smart’ kids would never receive any money! This is not a pity scholarship, nor does any organization that doles out money work on emotions.
    • “What about science majors? The sciences have grading systems that are a LOT more strict, and averages in those classes are a LOT lower. It’s hard for chemistry majors taking organic and p-chem to keep a 3.0, let alone a 3.5. They’re going to get the short end of the stick under this system and that’s unfair.”
    –This is a borderline-coherent argument. A lot more science-majors than arts-majors are going to have to pay under this new system. Still, I don’t see the next step in the cure for cancer being delayed or prevented by only paying for 90% of a chemistry major’s tuition. And if we’re talking about being able to get more money elsewhere, there are MANY more opportunities for science majors to receive outside scholarships than there are for arts majors.
    Despite all this, there are still some issue remaining. First, though some of these changes are logical if arguably “drastic,” this is not saving the state too much money. While item-by-item savings were not disclosed by the governor’s office, the statement was made that ALL these changes would save the state roughly $31 million a year. Considering this is a program that cost over $200 million more than anticipated THIS YEAR ALONE, an extra $31 million is not going to save it. Even worse, though, is the fact that the “numbers don’t add up.” The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that approximately 180,000 of the 200,000 students on HOPE would be “dropped” to 90% scholarships; using the above numbers we compute generously ($700 a year saved by the state)(180,000 students)= $126,000,000. Woops…Still, there are a lot of pennies that need to be pinched, and I’m doubtful as to whether this will fix things permanently.
    Another major issue that has surprisingly NOT been attacked yet is the plan for loans. See, politicians didn’t want their constituents to be TOO upset about the 10% drop in support. Here is a direct quote from the Atlanta Journal Constitution: “Deal’s proposal includes allocating $10 million to offer loans, carrying a one percent interest rate, to students who can’t maintain a 3.0. The loan, he said, would be forgiven for those who teach math, science, technology, or engineering in Georgia’s public schools. One year of the loan will be forgiven for each year spent teaching, he said….about one third of the technical college students currently receiving HOPE could lose the scholarship because they do not have a 3.0.” Again, reaction should be “WHOA!!!!!” First, the current rules for HOPE require a student to maintain a 3.0 GPA–why are there students who just now will lose HOPE because they do not have a 3.0 GPA?! Second, and really more importantly, is the message this is sending: “If you do not want to have to pay off student loans, in part or completely because you could not maintain a GPA worthy of a particular scholarship, then all you have to do is teach science and math in Georgia public schools.” Wow. This is a fantastically bad idea. Instead of trying to argue this point, let me end this mini-rant by asking, “Would you want YOUR child being ‘taught’ by someone with a college GPA less than 3.0?”

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