Is HOPE Scholarship lifting middle-class students while leaving poor kids behind?

Georgia is purging thousands of students from college rolls because they can’t pay tuition. Is need-based aid the answer? KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Georgia has thousands of low-income students who cannot afford college because they don’t qualify for the HOPE Scholarship or its more lucrative offspring, the Zell Miller Scholarship. HOPE pays for 70 to 85 percent of tuition depending on which public campus students attend, while Zell Miller covers full tuition.

Confronted with this problem, many Georgians insist the solution is prodding low-income kids to work harder in high school so they can win one of these merit scholarships. Middle-class parents point out they insisted their kids had to make at least a 3.0 GPA in high school to earn HOPE. (It takes a 3.7 GPA to win a Zell Miller Scholarship and at least a 26 on the ACT and 1,200 on the SAT.)

Policy experts offer a different tack: Georgia ought to give out more financial aid based on student need rather than academics. And they cite an economic rationale: The state of Georgia needs a highly educated workforce to thrive and that means producing more first-generation college graduates.

One of those experts is Claire Suggs, who reviewed state aid data for a new Georgia Budget & Policy Institute analysis and found only 30 percent of low-income students in the university system get either HOPE or Zell Miller, compared to 42 percent of middle- and upper-income students.

About 20 percent of black students and 36 percent of Hispanic students earn one of the two scholarships, versus 46 percent of Asian-American and 45 percent of white students. While white students make up 64 percent of HOPE Scholars and 78 percent of Zell Miller Scholars, they account for only 54 percent of undergraduate enrollment.

A senior education policy analyst, Suggs says closing the disparity is not as simple as encouraging lower-income students to work harder to strengthen their report cards. Students in poverty face far greater obstacles, beginning with less language skills and more health and stress risks. They go to underfunded schools with less experienced teachers and have fewer adults helping them figure out how to apply to college and how to pay for it. The solution cannot only be telling them to push themselves more, says Suggs.

“If we are going to have a robust economic future for whole state, we have to make sure we are not leaving students behind. If we are leaving wide swaths of kids behind, the state will suffer,” says Suggs.

State Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, has taken up the cause of low-income students, citing her own hardscrabble background as the child of carpet mill workers and the important role HOPE played in enabling her to attend the University of Georgia.

She ticks off the common arguments against creating a needs-based program, including the contention kids can just work their way through school. Students are working, says Evans, explaining roughly 80 percent of college students have a job. “It used to be a student could work part-time during the summer and earn enough to pay tuition. In 2013, it took 991 hours — a full-time job for half the year — to accomplish the same. And that wouldn’t cover fees, books and housing,” she says.

Why can’t these kids get loans? “Students are already taking on debt. Georgia is ninth in the nation for students with loan debt and we are ranked second in the amount of debt per student,” she says. Don’t really poor kids qualify for federal Pell grants? “Pell isn’t what it used to be. The maximum award is $5,775 a year,” she says.

Even with HOPE, some Georgians still need more aid since the scholarship does not pay for room and board or books and fees, which can add up to $15,000 a year. “We realize the escalating costs of post-secondary education are causing tremendous burdens on families. And options are being reviewed as we speak by the Legislature,” said Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Fran Millar, a Republican senator from Dunwoody. “We have to do something.”

According to the GBPI study: “Low-income HOPE scholars in the university system are more vulnerable to losing the scholarship. Nearly 47 percent of low-income HOPE scholars lose their scholarship compared to about 39 percent of non-poor HOPE scholars. Losing HOPE has a greater effect on low-income students than their better-off peers. About 44 percent of these students graduated while 58 percent of non-poor HOPE scholars who also lost the scholarship completed their degrees.”

Many years ago, research revealed HOPE was largely going to middle-class high school students on track all their lives to attend college, so the merit scholarship didn’t influence whether students went to college, but where they went.

The imperative now is different: Get more kids into college for whom higher education was not a birthright. Evans points out Georgia is already sending most of its higher income kids to college; the shortfall in educated workers can’t be made up from students in those income levels.  The state has to get more of its low-income students into college.

And more Georgia students are low-income, a fact often glossed over the Legislature and governor.  In 2007, “economically disadvantaged” students became the majority in Georgia’s public schools. By 2014, they comprised 62 percent of enrollment. Last year, the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation reported that 51 percent of public school students in America were from low-income households in 2013 and that Georgia had the seventh largest proportion, at 60 percent.

This is the challenge facing Georgia: At the same its students are growing poorer, they must become better educated for their own sake and that of the state. This requires not only getting more of them into college, but more of them prepared for college.

No one is suggesting tampering with HOPE.  In its report, GBPI recommends a new comprehensive, statewide need-based aid program. While there is some need-based aid now, it hardly meets demand as the study shows:

 

$660 MILLION: UNMET STUDENT FINANCIAL NEED ACROSS UNIVERSITY SYSTEM (2013-14)

$28.8 MILLION: AMOUNT UNIVERSITY SYSTEM RAISED TO AWARD IN NEED-BASED AID

While the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute report doesn’t deal with how to fund a new need-based program, Suggs says, “There are revenue options. It could be ending tax breaks that aren’t effective or looking at increasing taxes on cigarettes. We need a more coherent approach to tax reform. There are options lawmakers can consider if they see this as something that is really important.”

That’s the question: Do they?

Reader Comments 0

26 comments
Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

Georgia has a technical college system, as well as two year schools within the University System of Georgia (USG) system that, by and large, aren't residential and cost far less money than the four year schools.  These schools present  far more flexibility and an easier transition to higher education for the students who, for whatever reason, leave high school with less than stellar credentials.  Sometimes, students are relatively disadvantaged and in others, late bloomers.   Many others are already excellent students.


At least with the two year USG schools, federal scholarship money is available.  Those students with good grades can transfer to USG four year colleges.  They're the best education deal going in the state.



concernedoldtimer
concernedoldtimer

I think the HOPE has lead to increased college costs and high school grade inflation.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Allow all lottery ticket buyers to designate the HOPE funds for each of their lottery transactions to the student/s of their choice.


The wealthy get millions in tax credits each year to fund their children's K-12 private schools. They also get HOPE money from the poor to fund their kids' college/ BMW.


If you want HOPE money for your kid, play the lottery and designate it.

Tcope
Tcope

The upper middle class and wealthy get very few benefits from government in general. Why do people loose their minds over the poor and the stupid, that buy lottery tickets, picking up the tab for their children going to state colleges and universities?

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Tcope

Haha. You are not very well versed in 529 plans, ira's, mortgage deductions, etc. If you are upper middle class/wealthy, you get tons of government handouts.

You want the wealthy to get a tax credit(dollar for dollar) on money donated to private schools for their kids, but don't want the poor to designate hope money to their kids for a % they spend on the lottery.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

The problem: Mostly lower income people are buying lottery tickets that send mostly wealthier kids to college.


The solution: All lottery ticket buyers must register to play the lottery. When they register, they must designate a Georgia student or students to which the HOPE portion of the lottery sale will be allocated. These funds will be placed in a college account that can be spent on qualified college costs at a public college in GA. 

jerryeads
jerryeads

Can always count on Lee and Pig to be totally bereft of reality. 

Zell Miller created the HOPE scholarship because he saw the changes in Georgia's economy coming and knew he had to find a way to educate Georgia's low-income (i.e., rural) populations. There was (an actually generous) income cap for HOPE.

When the lottery went gangbusters, the legislature removed the income cap so that rich folk could pay for their kid's bimmer and the parking fees at UGA and Tech without digging into their Martha's Vineyard and Vail vacation funds.

Now that things are a bit tighter, given 90% of a test score is how much mommy and daddy make (and a fair chunk of grades), what happens is that the smart poor kid stays in the trailer picking cotton or in the inner city selling water outside the stadium while the rich kid's mommy and daddy can still not be inconvenienced by tuition. 

There will always be Lees and Pigs who could give a royal rat about anyone else but themselves, but hopefully some of the rest of us might actually want something better for all of us. Which is what Zell wanted.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

At least once per year, Maureen trots out another sob story on how poor kids can't afford to go to college and how the taxpayers should pony up for yet another entitlement program.


This article dances around the issue of whether or not a student who has maintained less than a 3.0 GPA and cannot score above a certain minimum on SAT/ACT are academically qualified to be in college.  Seems to me that was an issue that almost broke HOPE at least 2-3 times.  


Also, no where in this article does it examine the continuously increasing tuition and fees of college, often at a multiplier four or five times the rate of inflation.


I'm sorry, but I was a non-traditional student who worked full time and still was able to attend college and earn a BBA and MBA.  I have no empathy for those who whine about not being able to afford college and want others to pay for it.  There are ways to attend college if you are willing to work for it.  

TinaYoung
TinaYoung

re fees: You will pay a parking fee even if you don't have a car or can't find a parking place, you will pay for a gym even if you don't use it and you will pay for athletics even if you don't go to games or approve of football at colleges.

redweather
redweather

As a friend of mine always says, HOPE is a merit scholarship, not a needs-based scholarship.  

TinaYoung
TinaYoung

Even if the pay the tuition these are the fees my granddaughter is paying for KSU this fall. Over $800.00

IS-Tuition UG Fall$1,063.98

Spec Institutional Fee Wvr-Fal $0.00

Special Institutional Fee-Fal l$300.00

Technology Fee-Fall $55.00

Wellness Fee - Fall $3.00

Sports & Rec Parks Fee-Fall $75.00

Recreation Center Fee-Fall $97.00

International Fee-Fall $11.00

Activity Fee-Fall $39.00

Health Fee-Fall $51.00

Transportation Fee - Fall $58.00

Athletic Fee-Fall $221.00

Parking Fee-Fall $93.00

Another comment
Another comment

Over $1000 at Georgia State. MUch of this is because of the absurdity of adding football programs.

Shira Newman
Shira Newman

1) HOPE was originally designed to keep the best and brightest in GA. Those who were leaving the state for scholarships at great schools. They were *not* coming back to GA. It was designed to keep them here and so they could contribute to the economy in GA. 2) if you want to help low income students, this isn't the way -- create a new program, raise money for it, etc. Stop doing too much with each govt program. What is the goal? Is it changing? 3) There are plenty of people who have many degrees who cannot get a job. Why do we continue to push the idea that college is for everyone? That going to college guarantees a job? The better thing to do is get govt out of the way so that businesses can do what they do with less govt intervention. The reason many companies ask for a college degree is *not* because one is needed for many of the jobs, but there are so many things a company has to do, they cannot afford to spend as much time training a person...so they use the idea of a college degree as a proxy to -- 'can do stuff.' Which it isn't and even more so these days. 4) the companies aren't paying for the degrees so they do not care at all when they ask for more and more education and whatnot from job applicants. No skin off their teeth.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

IF GEORGIA CARED it could start participating again in SSIG and get matching federal money to go with state money for the poorest of the poor students.  However, there is the incorrect perception that Pell covers the need, and Georgia has to make no match of Pell money.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

On the issue of why poor kids lose their merit aid: They may be working more to make up the $15,000 a year in room, board, books and fees not covered by HOPE.

Research shows working more than 20 hours a week has a negative impact on students' grades, whether the employment is on campus or off. Students who work 20 hours or less, on campus and off, report roughly similar grades as do students who do not work at all.

On this score, I want to add that a lack of money in college is a stressor.  It means students cannot afford to take those wonderful but unpaid internships that have been proven to lead to jobs. They can't do mini semesters abroad.

I have been struck by the stark difference in the experiences of college students who have to hold down jobs to stay in school and those who do not.  For the former, college is a struggle, especially with rising tuitions. For the latter, it is a gilded experience.  Some affluent kids do work, but their paychecks don't determine whether they can return to school the following semester or buy that chemistry textbook. 

Laurie8750
Laurie8750

@MaureenDowney Here's the deal, no one is telling these kids to leave home for school.  I lived at home and attended a local university my first year, just as my daughter is doing now.  I held down a 30 hour a week job, then got 2 part time jobs so I could get over 40 hours during my last year of school.  It can be done if someone has the drive and ability.  Handing money out  for food and lodging is not going to solve the problem.  These people need to have some skin in the game to take college seriously.  Otherwise, they are more likely to throw away their opportunity.

Bob Doty
Bob Doty

If 47% of "low income students" lose their scholarships due to low grades, what does that tell you? It tells me that, regardless of economic means, maybe these students shouldn't be in a University to begin with.

Cheryl Pharr
Cheryl Pharr

yeah! eff those poor students who have been poorly prepared. they should have been born with more money, then they could be great like the rest of us. when they realized they didn't have money or resources they should have just killed themselves to make it easier on everyone else.

Bob Doty
Bob Doty

One's financial means has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence. No one but a class-abscessed bigot would think such.

Bob Doty
Bob Doty

Students "poorly prepared". Huh. Who do you think owns that responsibility? The parents (plural), that's who. A parent's number one responsibility, and one that so many fail at.

bu22
bu22

To the extent that it is tougher to get good grades in many of those higher income schools, there already is some  help to students from low income schools.  A 3.0 at one of the top public schools in the area is tougher to get than a 3.0 at most of the inner city schools.

Tim Langan
Tim Langan

Poverty has an undeniable direct affect on academic achievement. To suggest otherwise is just odd.

redweather
redweather

You seem awfully eager to throw everyone else under the bus.

bu22
bu22

Yes.  The article kind of makes the case AGAINST more needs based.  More of them fail to keep their Hope scholarship.  And the article talks about how handicapped the lower income students are by being poorly prepared.  Rather than wasting money on a failed college experience, it would be better to try to improve their K-12 experience.