Gov. Deal to propose HOPE changes

mlee@macon.comJanuary 16, 2013 

ATLANTA -- A proposal due to be published Thursday by Gov. Nathan Deal would reverse some cuts to Georgia’s HOPE scholarship. Meanwhile, a separate proposal from Democrats would expand eligibility for the HOPE grant.

Deal will propose raising HOPE scholarship payments by 3 percent in his draft budget for the fiscal year that begins this July.

“I think it will be well received by the committees,” said state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, who sits on the two committees likely to hear the proposal: Higher Education and the budget-vetting Appropriations Committee.

“The lottery has done a little better,” said Staton, who oversees higher education bills for Appropriations, “so it’s possible to do this without jeopardizing the integrity” of the award’s reserve fund. Lottery revenue is used to fund HOPE. HOPE scholarships are awarded to Georgia students in public colleges and universities in the state. HOPE grants are awarded to students from Georgia attending technical schools in the state.

HOPE now covers roughly 90 percent of tuition for eligible in-state students at Georgia’s public universities and technical colleges. When the program began in 1994, it paid 100 percent of tuition, plus some books and fees, out of funds generated by the Georgia lottery. But on declining lottery sales, in 2011, the Legislature made the trim to tuition, books and fees.

Those with the very highest marks from high school can still get a full ride to schools in the University System under HOPE’s Zell Miller Scholarship Program. HOPE also pays up to $1,800 per semester for private school students.

But lottery income has ticked up a bit lately, according to the latest statistics from the Georgia Lottery Corp. In the third quarter of calendar year 2012, the lottery transferred about $221 million to pre-K, college and university programs, some $16 million more than the same time in 2011.

That means the size of the pie has grown, so Deal calculates that each student can get a slightly bigger piece.

But many technical school students have completely left the table since 2011 because of several changes: the cut to the HOPE grant, the switch from quarters to semesters and the creation of a 3.0 grade-point average requirement.

“Our college was not affected as much as others,” said Janet Kelly, marketing and public relations director at Middle Georgia Technical College in Warner Robins. Even so, enrollment there dropped from a high of about 4,200 in the fall of 2010 to about 3,200 now, according to preliminary spring 2013 numbers.

The old requirement was “satisfactory academic progress,” meaning a 2.0 average GPA or higher. Kelly pointed out that 3.0 can be especially challenging for students who are working full time or raising families.

On the money side, some of her students went from paying only a $35 technology fee to owing $500 to $600 in books, other fees and tuition costs.

“If you can’t pay for school, you can’t come,” Kelly said.

In the coming days, state Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, will file a bill to return the HOPE grant threshold to a 2.0 GPA.

Technical colleges “are not a traditional academic environment,” he said, “but they are a fast track to jobs.”

Carter argued there is already enough money in HOPE to pay for his bill, which will be endorsed by the Senate Democratic Caucus.

His caucus colleagues plan to file several other HOPE-related bills, including one proposal to return payments to 100 percent of tuition, and a narrower proposal to guarantee Zell Miller scholarships to the top 3 percent of each high school graduating class.

Staton said he thinks it’s possible that such a Zell Miller scholarship expansion “could have a negative impact on the reserve fund,” so he’s not interested at this time.

In fact, Staton said he would be surprised to see any major HOPE changes this year besides the governor’s adjustment.

Families of HOPE recipients are slightly better off than the average population, according to a 2011 state report. Some 68 percent of HOPE families reported income of $60,000 or less, while about 76 percent of all Georgians fit in that same income category.

HOPE money was limited to families making $66,000 or less when it was created in 1994.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail her at

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