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Published in Print: November 26, 2003, as Ga. Panel Would Tighten HOPE Grade Requirements

Ga. Panel Would Tighten HOPE Grade Requirements

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Changes are in the works for Georgia's hugely popular but expensive HOPE Scholarship program.

A state legislative commission is recommending that high school students earn grade point averages of at least 3.0 to be eligible for the scholarships, and that they no longer be able to count on the program to pay for college books and fees. HOPE scholars would also be monitored more closely to ensure they meet the academic requirements for keeping the awards.

The HOPE Scholarship Joint Study Commission's proposals—which could save Georgia close to $1 billion over the next five years—were announced Nov. 13 and will get a final review by the 20-member group next month. They are expected to be presented to the legislature in January.

The commission, made up of legislators, educators, parents, and students, was charged with looking for ways to cut costs in the state-lottery-financed program without excluding too many students. Because of rising tuition prices and demand for the scholarships, it was projected that the program could be more than $220 million in the red by 2007. The current annual budget for the program is about $400 million. ("Georgia Eyes HOPE Scholarship Changes," Oct. 15, 2003.)

"I was very impressed with the way the commissioners analyzed the data and made good public policy. But who knows what we'll end up with," said Shelley C. Nickel, the executive director of the Georgia Student Finance Commission, the agency that runs the scholarship program.

Split on SAT

Noticeably absent from the commission's report was Gov. Sonny Perdue's controversial recommendation that eligibility for HOPE grants be based on an SAT cutoff score.

Commission members split on the issue. African-American legislators and citizen groups opposed it. They said tying eligibility to scores on the college-entrance exam would be biased against minority students.

Data released during one of the commission meetings showed that two-thirds of the African-American students who received HOPE Scholarships in 2000 would not have been eligible if recipients had been required to meet a combined score of 1000 out of a possible 1600 on the SAT.

The commission agreed to revisit the idea if its recommendations don't save enough money. Gov. Perdue, a Republican, has suggested a cutoff score of 900 and may draft his own legislation if the final bill doesn't include an SAT cutoff.

"[The governor] sees the SAT-HOPE linkage as a way to boost Georgia's SAT scores and get us out of 50th place in the [national] rankings," said Derrick Dickey, a spokesman for Mr. Perdue.

Tightening the definition of a B average to include only students who earned at least a 3.0 would mean that those who graduated from high school with a 2.5—but still had a B average on a 100-point scale—would not be eligible for the merit-based scholarships.

The commission noted that students who enter college with a 2.5 are also those who tend to lose their scholarships after freshman year because they can't maintain a B average in college.

Vol. 23, Issue 13, Page 13

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