ATLANTA –  A recently proposed overhaul of the HOPE scholarship could mean that many Mercer students will have to pay at least $400 more for tuition when they return to campus this fall – and possibly up to $1,200 more in the coming years depending on future lottery revenues.

The Georgia House approved a bill 155-22 Tuesday that would reduce the amount of HOPE scholarship funds awarded annually to in-state students attending private universities such as Mercer by a minimum of 10 percent, from $4,000 to $3,600. The bill is now set move to the Senate for a final vote in roughly two weeks.

House Bill 326 is a part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to save the state’s lottery-funded education programs – including the college scholarships and the state’s prekindergarten program – from going broke.

To compensate for the HOPE fund’s currently estimated $400 million budget shortfall, the current bill would slash public and private university HOPE scholarships by 10 percent across the board for all in-state students with a 3.0 to 3.3 GPA.

Current public and private college students with a 3.3 GPA or higher would not be affected by the proposed cuts, however, as they would qualify for a newly-formed “Zel Miller” scholarship that would retain all the benefits of the old HOPE scholarship.

Perhaps most significantly, H.B. 326 would make the amount of future HOPE scholarships dependent on the amount of lottery revenue generated, meaning individual HOPE scholarships could dip to as low as 70 percent of what they are now in the coming years if the funds are not available.

At public universities like the University of Georgia and Georgia State, students with a 3.0 to 3.3 GPA would only receive 90 percent of their tuition payments for the 2011-2012 academic year.

At private universities such as Mercer – where HOPE only pays partial tuition  – students in the 3.0 to 3.3 GPA range would incur a similar 10 percent scholarship reduction from $4,000 to $3,600 for the coming year.

That means Mercer students receiving HOPE who have less than a 3.3 GPA would be required to come up with an additional $400 to cover the cost of the next two semesters, and could be forced to pay as much as $1,200 more for each of the coming academic years if lottery revenues don’t pan out as hoped.

To qualify for the new Zel Miller scholarship and maintain the old HOPE benefits, students must have either maintained a 3.3 GPA in college, or enter in from high school with a minimum of a 3.7 GPA as well as a score of at least 1200 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT.

Mercer President William B. Underwood said in a statement to The Cluster on Wednesday that although he regrets the fact that some Mercer students may lose part of their scholarship packages, he supports the House’s overall aim in passing the bill.

“It is clear that the current level of funding for HOPE scholarships is unsustainable. While I regret that many Mercer students will receive a $400 reduction in their HOPE grant, I believe that the governor’s plan is a reasonable and measured response to the financial crisis facing the HOPE scholarship program,” Underwood said.

The Georgia Tuition Equalization Grant would not be affected by passage of H.B. 326, which means that qualified Mercer students would continue to receive the GTEG funding of $750 per academic year.

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For more on this developing story, read the next issue of The Cluster, or check back in at www.mercercluster.com for updates.

7 Comments

  1. I can only hope to write this eloquently

  2. Matt Hickman says:

    Carl Lewis helped edit the piece. So me too…

  3. I question this "unsustainable" education system that we currently have. Why does Georgia seem to think we can cut our way out of this? Before everyone jumps up and slaps me with the "fiscal responsibility" argument I only bring up the notion proposed by the World Development Report 2009…a state should liberalize its regulations to better itself economically e.g. get rid of Sunday alcohol laws, allow enterprises such as casinos, and refrain from serious prison terms (wouldn't also be a bad idea to loosen up on drug laws). Surely if we were the main proprietor in promoting a liberal economy in the South we could compete, and win, against our competitors (Alabama, SC, Florida, etc)in attracting more businesses and new citizens to move here (with their money of course). Only logic would follow we could possibly generate more revenue…which in turn generates a larger tax pool which in turn means more money for education.

    If the state truly worried about this "unsustainable" policy maybe the law should turn back to its original purpose. Funding for those who have the capability to succeed but lack the funding for education. This isn't unprecedented. Not everyone is entitled to receive the Pell Grant. Why can't HOPE follow suit and address the real need. 100k+ income households don't have to worry about their children going to college if they have the ability. Poor people do. A cut across the board only hurts less than affluent families and, more importantly, the education of our people which EVERYONE benefits from (see definition of neighborhood effect).

    I welcome any and all backlash from the moral populous, the ardent defenders of equality, and staunch supporters of individual freedom. At a certain point we need to address the issues at hand.

    I think it is worth noting my opinion comes from the perspective of someone who does not receive HOPE. I received the GI Bill from my service in the US Marine Corps. I graciously accept it along with Mercer's generosity to develop it's yellow ribbon program to accommodate me with the funding that Bill does not. I would also like to point out that not everyone is entitled to the GI Bill…Officers, as I understand it correctly, are not entitled to it. Reasoning: They don't need it.

  4. I'm all for instating an income cap on HOPE eligibility if it's required, since doing so would limit HOPE funding to the students who really need it the most. But at the same time, I also think HOPE and education funding in general should be the last thing for us to be cutting when our state ranks 49th in standardized test scores.

    I'm not actually all that opposed to Sen. Brown's proposal: http://www.macon.com/2010/08/05/1218531/brown-pus

  5. Carl I agree mostly but not on the grounds of standardized testing. The only ST I know of, so I assume you are limited as well, is the SAT. Unfortunately this is an inaccurate view of our education as we allow all, and actively encourage through requiring SAT scores for vocational schools, Georgians to participate in taking these tests. However, places like Mississippi do not encourage test taking among its lesser pupils. This skews the data. Most agree that Georgia has a better education system than Mississippi, SC, possibly VA and is on par with the likes of NC and Florida. As you can see from this data here:

    http://blog.bestandworststates.com/2009/08/25/sta

    You will notice that there is a trend: those who have lower percentage rates taking the test tend to have better scores. As you will see Georgia is in the 70 percentile of its student population. Places like Alabama and Mississippi fall below ten percent. Surely their "high scores" do not reflect their education systems as no one praises them.

    I don't so much endorse actual cutting rather reallocation. No need to spend money where it is not needed. Instead we could reallocate funding from the HOPE scholarship to primary and secondary schooling; where research seems to suggest these levels are the most crucial.

    However, I will also concede to the fact that standardized testing could be a good measuring tool for education around the country but it actually needs standards (seems odd I know). Maybe mandatory testing could fix this loophole from the federal level?

  6. T.J. Van Auken says:

    Why not just change the payout to winners in the Lottery? Lottery players will never notice it, but responsible students and parents always do notice.

    This move "taxes" education and encourages poverty.

  7. This is a test of our new commenting system!

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