Projections show that one of the most successful programs in the state’s history is a victim of its own success. The Georgia Student Finance Commission that administers the HOPE Scholarship program is projected to start running short of funds by the 2014 fall semester. The reason? Too many students -- 56,000 more than 10 years ago -- and not enough lottery funds coming in. The funding gap is expected to be $107 million by 2014 according to Tim Connell, president of the GSFC. That gap would increase by $56 million by 2016.
Until 2014, the growing gap can be handled by using reserves, but those funds will run out and the program would depend entirely on lottery monies unless the General Assembly makes some adjustments.
So what to do? Increase lottery sales? Those sales are expected to be flat. Make the funds harder to get? The General Assembly took a stab at that last year, when it raised the bar (3.7 GPA) for those who would receive full tuition, others with a 3.0 GPA to a 3.6 GPA receive 90 percent tuition. However, that percentage has already dropped because the 90 percent was calculated using 2010-2011 tuition costs and is frozen there. Tuition went up for the 2011-2012 school year and will probably rise again.
There is little chance lawmakers would agree to fund the HOPE gap from the general fund, so what to do? HOPE, as many lawmakers contended last year, should return to its original form as a needs-based program. The scholarship amount may still need to be lowered, but those who need the financial help the most would still see a path to a college education and a better life.
-- Charles E. Richardson, for the Editorial Board