Future of HOPE is in doubt
Since its beginning in September 1993, over 3,400 Early County students have received over $10.25 million in HOPE scholarships and grants. Statewide, over 1.4 million students have received nearly $6.3 billion in HOPE scholarships.
Georgia legislators passed several provisions last year intended to ensure the future of the state’s HOPE scholarships. However, newspapers across the state are running stories about the dire prospects of the lottery-funded scholarship program.
Last year’s reforms included a reduced HOPE scholarship to prevent the program from going broke. At the same time, Gov. Nathan Deal unveiled the Zell Miller Scholarship, named for the former governor who created HOPE nearly 20 years ago.
The new scholarship provides full tuition to the state’s top students. HOPE students receive about $500 less each semester.
The new scholarship is turning out to be a bigger drain on the already strained HOPE as 11,600 students, 5,000 more than expected, have already qualified.
As a result, HOPE scholars will likely see their financial awards shrink even further than predicted during the next several years.
The Georgia Student Finance Commission oversees both scholarships. Commission president Tim Connell has stated the agency may have to borrow against future revenue from the Georgia Lottery to cover the cost. That, in turn, will only further exacerbate HOPE’s financial woes.
The commission requested $602.6 million for fiscal year 2013 to cover the scholarships and grants. Deal’s budget plan provided $575.3 million for them.
Legislators are questioning whether either program can survive without drastic changes, and college freshmen are wondering if the scholarships they receive will still exist by their senior year.
According to current estimates, the HOPE scholarship amount will drop starting in mid-2013 while the Zell Miller Scholarship will increase because it promises to cover all tuition costs.
Georgia’s technical colleges’ enrollment dropped by more than 12,000 this fall. The reduction is being blamed in part on a reduced HOPE payout. About 75 percent of the system’s students receive some type of HOPE award.
Miller and lawmakers launched the state lottery to pay for HOPE, among other education programs. But while the lottery is one of the most successful in the nation, it cannot keep up with the demand.
“As you go forward, there will be fewer and fewer people able to afford college,” said Sen. Buddy Carter, chairman of the state Senate’s higher education committee.
“You’ve got swaths of Georgia for whom HOPE vanishes and (the Zell Miller Scholarship) won’t help under the current system. That is a failure and an abandonment of the original principles that were sold to the state in order to tolerate the lottery.”