Preserving Hope

How the HOPE Scholarship has changed over time

By: Joshua Davis and Chapel Collins

The HOPE requirements have changed many times since its inception in 1993. As a result, many current, past, and future HOPE students across Georgia have felt the eases, burdens, and complacencies that come with a fluctuable GPA requirement.

The HOPE scholarship, created by Governor Zell Miller, was a revolutionary attempt to make college available to all prospective students. A merit-based program, HOPE receives funding from the state lottery and has spent over $9 billion to send nearly 11 million students to school. Other states have modeled their own financial aid systems after the much beloved and successful HOPE scholarship.

However, this success is not indicative of an existence without challenges, but rather of highs and lows. Since the beginning of HOPE, college tuition costs have increased across the board, while available funds from the lottery have continually decreased. At the same time, more and more students have been equipped with the knowledge that if they meet the HOPE requirements, they will have the money to pay for school.

The Golden Age of HOPE

Once the program proved to be incredibly popular in the late 1990s, officials decided to remove the income caps from the scholarship’s requirements and increase allowances for books and fees, amongst many other generous changes.

Dr. Norm Sammons, graduate of Georgia Tech, went to college from 1997 to 2003 in the golden age of the HOPE Scholarship.

Dr. Norm Sammons, Georgia Tech Graduate

“My experiences were great! Getting the HOPE scholarship initially was easy, as was maintaining it throughout my college career,” said Sammons. “The only negative I could think of was that they were a little unclear about when HOPE funding terminates. Other than that, it was a great program in those days!”

Even though Dr. Sammons graduated as high school valedictorian, he only had to maintain a 3.0 GPA at the time of his attendance. He had access to many other scholarships, but says that HOPE was the most consistent of all and what a scholarship should be.

“An ideal scholarship is one where you don’t have to worry about a thing and you can just focus on schoolwork,” said Sammons. “HOPE was great because it took care of the bulk of my expenses for several years and was pretty automatic. I did not have to do anything to maintain it except get good grades and make sure I had a 3.0 GPA at the times when they were checking.”

HOPE On The Decline

What came of all this was lawmakers and college officials struggling to find ways to keep the scholarship afloat, which in turn lead to extensive corner cutting.

Before long, colleges began to raise tuition, safe in the knowledge that HOPE would continue to pay, creating a $100 million program cost hike. In response, legislators lowered the amount of school fees that would be paid by HOPE.

In 2011, Governor Nathan Deal signed a bill that eliminated payments for fees and books entirely, as well as increased the GPA requirement for HOPE. This new version of HOPE, called HOPE Lite, provides financial aid to students based on the amount of available lottery funds.

Just 24 years into the life of the HOPE scholarship, students went from a promise of a full ride scholarship with an 80% grade point average to a compromise of 100% tuition coverage, with no book costs or fees, for the price of maintaining nearly-straight A’s throughout high school, scoring high on the SAT, and keeping a 3.5 GPA throughout college.

Graham Johnson, a 2011 Georgia State graduate, recalled an experience from high school when students became aware of the GPA requirement changes.

Graham Johnson, Georgia State Graduate

“When I was a high school sophomore, the GPA threshold for HOPE., which I believe was 100% funding for all who qualified then, had increased from 2.6 to 3.0,” said Johnson. “When the news broke, I remember the baseball team, fed up, saying that ‘there goes college.’ However, they all still went — -their dads paid.”

HOPE: A Financial Aid Roller Coaster

Columbus State University student Duncan George recalled a specific moment from his freshman year when he read his tuition bill and saw that it had been reduced by the HOPE Scholarship.

Duncan George, current Columbus State University student

“When I received my first fee payments,” said George, “the bill was greatly reduced because of the scholarship, which helped me to save money on other things that I need.”

“I have had good experiences with HOPE, such as over half of my tuition being paid, which lifted a lot of financial burdens off of me. But, I have also had some bad experiences, such as losing the scholarship due to having a GPA being too low to meet the requirements to get it.”

Even though nobody had a completely positive experience with HOPE, everyone said that theirs was positive overall. Despite constantly tightening budgets, decreasing payments, and increasing requirements that may frustrate HOPE users, the HOPE Scholarship has sent, and continues to send, millions of students to college — students that may not have had that chance without the program.

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