Last week, the Senate Higher Education Committee and House approved House Bill 326, which included a reduction in HOPE awards and the implementation of the Zell Miller Scholarship program, named after the former governor who founded HOPE.
Gov. Nathan Deal made the proposal and it is currently making its way through the legislature, possibly seeing a full Senate vote this week.
The revamped HOPE, if approved and made into law, will be tied to lottery revenue, not tuition and can vary annually. For incoming freshman and current students, HOPE will cover 90 percent of current tuition rates for students who graduate high school with and maintain a 3.0 GPA. The Zell Miller Scholarship will award 100 percent tuition for students who graduate high school with a 3.7 GPA, score a 1200 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT and maintain a 3.3 GPA.
Previously, students who graduated high school with a 3.0 GPA and maintained the GPA received 100 percent tuition as well as a book and fee allowance. If the bill is approved, current college students who had previously met the requirements will now have to fund the remaining 10 percent of tuition, their books, remedial classes and any other student fees.
"From the standpoint of our students, most wouldn't qualify for 100 percent HOPE support," Georgia Highlands President Randy Pierce said. "And the fact that it won't cover books and fees will have a definite impact. Based on a 12-hour load of four courses, the amount of tuition would be $960, and the cost of books and fees could be almost as much as tuition. If a student takes a 15-hour load of five, 3-hour courses, the cost of tuition would be $1,200, and the cost of books and fees would be less than half. A lot of our students don't have the ability to pay. Of course, there is the Pell Grant, and Deal's proposal would allow students to get both HOPE and Pell. However, the problem with that is many of our nontraditional students use Pell to live on while they are going to school, so that would dig into their living expenses. So the choice becomes, 'Do I buy groceries or books?'"
"It stinks that when I apply for HOPE next year I may not get it like I did this year," said Timothy Meador, a dual-enrollment freshman at the Georgia Highlands College Cartersville campus.
Meador is working toward his high school diploma while gaining college credit. He said although he exceeded the expectations previously established for HOPE, he isn't sure if he'll be able to meet the new requirements for the Zell Miller Scholarship and that has encouraged him seeking more opportunities for scholarships and financial aid.
"[My parents and I] have been looking at fastweb.com for scholarships, and just looking everywhere we can find," Meador said. "There are scholarships that come from Walmart ... we're having to look at a lot more places and rely less on the state."
Sanford Chandler, president of Chattahoochee Technical College, said the college plans to continue helping current and prospective students seek financial aid.
"While students and prospective students will surely find the changes to the program new and different, they will still find that CTC has reasonably priced tuition for a quality education," Chandler said. "Our financial aid staff will be working with students to provide individual assistance in an effort to bring their academic and professional goals closer to reality.
"As we are dedicated to helping students to reach their goals, we will strive to keep lines of communication open to our students, as well as provide students with the quality education they have come to expect from us. Combined with federal Pell Grant dollars and scholarships through the Chattahoochee Tech Foundation and other sources, our students will continue to find Chattahoochee Technical College an affordable option."
Jim Gottwald, director of secondary curriculum for Bartow County Schools, said because the changes have not yet received full approval at the capitol, the school system as a whole has not made any changes to current strategies helping students seek financial aid.
"We haven't discussed anything different than what we expect our counselors to do, which is to help [students] find any kind of financial aid out there that is possible," Gottwald said. "I think the program is going to cause parents to have to put out more money which consequently might cause some kids to not be able to go to college."
Deal also introduced a 1 percent loan program which allows college graduates to teach in Georgia public schools in order to offset the loans.
According to www.gacollege411.org, "$20 million will be appropriated to the 1 percent loan program, and the Georgia Student Finance Commission will work to raise private matching funds for $10 million of this investment. These student loans can also be forgiven altogether if loan recipients become certified and teach in a public K-12 school in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field. Each year of service in the classroom will forgive one year of the student loan."
Cartersville High School Principal Jay Floyd said the number of HOPE recipients from CHS will likely remain the same, but estimating the number of Zell Miller Scholarship recipients would be impossible because the scholarship is tied to SAT and ACT scores.
"There's no way to predict how many [students] are going to be Zell Miller scholars," Floyd said, "but it is estimated that 10 percent of HOPE scholars will be Zell Miller scholars."
Floyd and guidance counselor Yvonne Morgan said the school itself hasn't developed any new strategies to help students seek financial aid due to the proposed bill.
"I'm still trying to encourage students to look for scholarships, to use the GAcollege411 website, the other websites that we have, and the Etowah Scholarship Foundation that we advertise heavily here at Cartersville High School," Morgan said. "So, we're still encouraging all of our students to pursue additional scholarship funding as we have in the past."
Lindsey Cottongim is a HOPE eligible senior at CHS, but said the new SAT requirement will keep her from receiving the Zell Miller Scholarship. She said she hopes to attend the University of Georgia in the fall and had previously planned on working while going to school in order to help with finances.
"I plan on getting some kind of part-time job if I do go to Georgia [UGA] just to help my parents out, so the plan is the same," Cottongim said, "but it would definitely help out now if I did [get a part-time job]."
Who qualified for HOPE in 2010?
Cass High School: 93 students
Adairsville High School: 53 students
Woodland High School: 134 students
Cartersville High School: 95 students