Georgia’s public and private college students will soon face a tougher road to get state financial assistance to complete their classroom studies.
The state’s highly-acclaimed HOPE Scholarship has encountered funding challenges as more students choose post-secondary schools in Georgia. Funded by the Georgia Lottery, the HOPE Scholarship is coming under increased scrutiny from the Georgia General Assembly as budgets tighten and tuition costs rise.
The program, started in 1993, awards scholarship money to Georgia high school students who keep their grade point averages at or above a 3.0 in a college preparatory curriculum. Those receiving scholarship funds must attend an in-state college, university, or technical college. Once enrolled in a post-secondary program, they must meet further GPA requirements to maintain the scholarship.
The main funding issue stems from the state’s lottery revenues. As the economy has faltered, so has discretionary spending on gambling. Combine that with a tuition prices nationwide trending above inflation, and the funds simply have not been flowing in fast enough to keep up with educational demand. The program is facing a $244 million shortfall for the 2010 fiscal year. That figure is expected to increase to $371 million by the end of the 2012 fiscal year, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The program has reserves to cover the shortfalls for the next two years.
Another issue nagging lawmakers is the lack of an income cap on the families of HOPE Scholarship applicants. When the program was first started, families were not allowed to earn more than $66,000 per year. That figure was increased to $100,000, and then eliminated altogether in 1995. Critics have complained that wealthier families have drained some of HOPE’s resources by not handling more of the bill they can afford.
For African-American students, who are more likely to depend on scholarship money for school, the outlook is not good. Nationally, Black students from low and middle-class families are less likely to immediately enroll in college, according to research provided by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In Georgia, with less money potentially available, this will have an immediate impact on students of color from cash-strapped families. The research also shows that, nationally, only 42 percent of Blacks complete college – a statistic that can only worsen with a lack of funding in a state dependent on state funds for college.
The Georgia General Assembly is expected to tackle the issue with legislation in early 2011. Members of the Higher Education Committee of the state’s House and Senate determined to make this issue a priority for the entire legislative body.