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Colleges, students brace for HOPE cuts

In Deal's plan, scholarship will cover 90 percent of tuition and won't increase with tuition costs

POSTED: February 19, 2011 1:24 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Gainesville State College students Megan Yarrow, left, and Anna Parlas chat in the school's student center Friday afternoon. Gov. Nathan Deal will unveil his plan for preserving the HOPE scholarship program Tuesday.

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Gov. Nathan Deal and top state lawmakers are planning cuts to Georgia's HOPE scholarship program, leaving higher education officials and students curious about what's coming next.

The scholarship will cover 90 percent of tuition and won't increase with tuition costs, according to the plan Deal is scheduled to announce Tuesday.

"It is a plan meant to preserve the HOPE scholarship for the next generation of Georgia's students," governor's office spokeswoman Stephanie Mayfield said Friday.

In addition, remedial college courses will no longer be covered, and the state's pre-kindergarten program will be reduced from 6 1/2 hours per day to four. However, students won't see any changes to the required 3.0 grade-point average for eligibility.

Most colleges are waiting for a "formal recommendation" from state officials before discussing plans, noted Kate Maine, director of public relations for North Georgia College & State University.

NGSCU officials are hosting an event Sunday to talk to students and parents about paying for higher education, but officials aren't planning to address HOPE changes just yet.

"When we have more complete information, we will be able to better determine how changes would impact our students," Maine said.

At Gainesville State College, officials will try to help students make up the 10 percent difference, President Martha Nesbitt said Friday.

"We'll be looking at what we can do to help students if they come to us with good grades," she said. "It's been such a wonderful program, and one-third of our students are on the HOPE scholarship, which is high compared to peer institutions."

For now, it's difficult to determine other impacts, such as enrollment changes, Nesbitt said.

"It might help us in one sense because 10 percent of our tuition is not the same as UGA or other research institutions," she said. "We do regret it, but we knew there would have to be some changes. We can't let the HOPE fund run out of money."

For private universities, lawmakers must also decide how to handle tuition equalization grants, said Jim Barco, senior vice president for institutional development at Brenau University.

"It's a difficult chore for the legislature in these lean times, but we're optimistic because we know the value we bring," he said. "There's never been a sense of parity between public and private institutions in this state."

The lottery-funded scholarship was created to help Georgia residents attend college, not become an entitlement program for free education, he said.

"If a student could take a set scholarship amount - say $6,000 - wherever he or she wished to go in Georgia, that might cover everything in a smaller school," he said.

"But at an institution such as UGA, they might have to pay $3,000, or $12,000 at Brenau."

Deal met with Republican House members Wednesday to talk about the proposal. Hall County legislators declined to comment before Tuesday's announcement.

Support for the plan isn't universal across the chambers, and students hope their lawmakers will keep them in mind.

"I used to have HOPE, and I'm working hard to get it back," said Rachel Andrews, a sophomore English major at GSC. "I'm worried about how these changes could affect me if I do get it back. My parents are helping me pay for school, and right now I don't qualify for any additional funding."

Lottery revenue, which funds the scholarship, remained flat the last four years, and use of reserves will leave the pot empty by 2012.

"Education is an investment for anyone, so this is cutting their own investment budget," said Kell Berliner, a fourth-year GSC student who uses HOPE. "In this economy, we need more people in school, training for better jobs. If fewer people attend, the economy may not recover as quickly."

On Thursday, Chancellor Erroll Davis told a House budget committee that tuition increases were likely again this year. On some campuses, this meant a 16 percent bump in education costs last year.

"Without HOPE, I wouldn't be going to school. Even with taking out loans, I don't have enough to cover my books," said Megan Yarrow, a sophomore chemistry major at GSC.

"I think more students could drop out. We already have a high dropout rate, and with this economy, that'll mean more if the scholarship doesn't fully cover tuition."



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