Saturday, April 30, 2011

HOPE Scholarship Changes

On March 15, 2011, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 326 into law. The new law is in regards to HOPE scholarship changes, which will cut scholarships to 90 percent for all but the highest scoring students in Georgia. Graduating seniors who obtain a 3.7 grade point average and at least a 1200 on their SAT are guaranteed the full scholarship, while current college students won’t be able to qualify for the full reward.

The law was signed in an effort to save the lottery-funded college scholarship, weeks after unveiling the legislation. Both the HOPE scholarship and pre-K programs where on the verge of going broke, as lottery proceeds failed to stay on track with Georgia’s soaring college enrollment and high tuition costs.

Former Georgia State University financial aid advisor Jessica Clemons said, “I don’t fully agree with the changes made in the HOPE program, but I understand that it was necessary for the overall longevity of it.”

Clemons worked for GSU’s financial aid department for 3 years, and explained her experience with students and their HOPE. “I’ve always loved the idea of the program, because it has helped many students in Georgia get through college. I went to school in Florida, and I wish we had a scholarship like HOPE when I was attending,” said Clemons.

Georgia is the only state that offers this scholarship, which was created in 1993 under Gov. Zell Miller. Originally, HOPE was awarded to students who were graduates from HOPE eligible high schools and maintained a 3.0 GPA.

Rachel Thomas, a teacher at Wheeler High School in Marietta said, “I truly believe that HOPE scholarship has motivated many of my students to do their best. Most of them have a desire to attend college after high school, and have always known that by maintaining a 3.0 average, they are eligible to get money towards their tuition at any college or university in the state of Georgia.”

For many, a 3.0 has always been a very reasonable average for students to maintain, “The fact that there is a new law which says you can only get the full amount from HOPE if you maintain a 3.7 grade point average is pretty drastic. I feel that a 3.4 would be more reasonable,” said Thomas.

Before the official announcement was made about the new changes, it seemed that many agreed with the likes of Thomas. News coverage showed around 150 college students, whom marched from Georgia State University and protested in front of The Georgia State Capitol.

Chants such as “Shame on you!” and “Kill the bill!” were being yelled, while students marched up and down the block.

Christian Benet, one of the very students who decided to march to the Capitol, recalled the experience, “I’ve been at Georgia State for the past two years with the HOPE scholarship. I have two different jobs, an internship, and I help out with my family. I don’t feel it is right for lawmakers to come out of left field and pretty much tell us they’re changing the HOPE scholarship policy,” said Benet.
He then said, “right now I have a 3.5 GPA that I’ve been able to maintain throughout the year. For me that’s good, considering all of the different things I do outside of school. It’s very difficult for most college students to focus solely on school, when most of them have other things going on. Lawmakers don’t seem to realize that.”

This is a point that many college students can agree with. In today’s culture, college students are very busy. Not only are they trying to maintain their grades in their classes, but most students are involved in activities, have a job, or are working towards starting their careers. This includes internship programs, etc. Maybe lawmakers truly don’t understand, or maybe they feel that students should be able to conquer all aspects of their lives without a problem.

Clemons broke down the issue, “From what I’ve been told, it has nothing to do with getting back at college students or not understanding. The issue is that the lottery proceeds, in which the money for HOPE comes from, hasn’t been able to keep up with college enrollment and rising tuition costs. The result, make it more of a challenge for students to get it.”

But what if this entire time a 3.7 was the standard for HOPE, would students be as upset about this issue. The thing is, because students have always been told that if you maintain a 3.0 grade point average, you could keep it, that’s what most strived for. That if you just skid the surface and did the minimum, you would be given money towards your tuition.

Thomas responded to this logic, “That is definitely a valid point, and makes perfect sense. But the fact of the matter is, there are students who have maintained a 3.0 throughout both high school and college and now have to work ten times harder to get this money to pay towards their tuition. College is not cheap, and it’s definitely not easy to keep a 3.7 when you’re juggling many different things. This is something I’m sure most can agree on,” said Thomas.

This all leads to the next question. What is the good that will come from all of the changes in the HOPE Scholarship program? After all, there has to be more behind the switch from the lawmakers’ point of view. I’m sure they are not trying to completely make students give up on it all right? Most lawmakers, politicians, and other people in power have kids themselves. They wouldn’t want to see their children have to struggle to pay tuition semester after semester.

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