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Looming HOPE cuts have families looking for new aid
Colleges helping students access different types of financial assistance
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Our Views: Changes needed to keep HOPE alive

College funding aid

Links to resources for parents and students

Student Aid on the Web: Provides information on preparing for and funding education beyond high school.

FASFA on the Web: Apply online for federal student aid.

National Student Loan Data System: Use your Federal Student Aid PIN to access federal student loan records.

U.S. Military: Members of the armed forces, and their families, can find out more about grants, repayment and forgiveness options. General government agencies offer advice about how to manage money.

Like many parents with college-bound kids, Melody Taylor of Cumming is keeping an eye on Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposals for the HOPE scholarship.

Her son plans to apply for the program before he heads to college this fall.

“There is some concern right now,” Taylor said. “It’s one reason we’re looking at financial aid options.”

Last week, Deal proposed a plan to allow students who qualify to receive college money, but not at the full funding levels offered before.

Under the new plan, the scholarship would cover 90 percent of the fiscal year 2011 standard tuition rate, instead of 100 percent tuition for students with at least a 3.0 grade-point average. It would no longer pay for textbook costs and school fees.

The plan also stated that high school graduates who have at least a 3.7 GPA and either a 1,200 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT would receive full tuition under the newly created Zell Miller Scholarship Program.

The changes would take effect in the fall and would save the Georgia Lottery, which funds the program, $300 million, Deal said.

The possibility of higher tuition costs has some families looking at alternative ways to cover expenses, and local college and universities aim to help.

Last Sunday, dozens of high school students and adults traveled to North Georgia College & State University to get advice about filling out financial aid forms. The event was part of College Goal Sunday, a nationwide program to assist families with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. More than 10 events were scheduled throughout the state this year.

Jill Rayner, director of financial aid for NGCSU, said not all families will qualify for money that doesn’t have to be repaid, but every student is eligible for a federal loan.

“We want families to be able to make an educated decision about what type of aid they need,” Rayner said.

The students also sat down for one-on-one advice from financial aid experts. Senior financial aid counselor Kathy Tosh said it’s important for students make sure the forms are accurate and turned in on time.

“Some students are selected for verification or need to make changes to the FASFA, so it’s important to meet those deadlines,” she said.

Families also explored loans and scholarships Friday at a College Goal event at Gainesville State College. The staff offered presentations about financial aid forms in English and Spanish.

Financial aid adviser Stephanie Stahl explained that the Internal Revenue Service is making it easier for families to fill out the form. A new feature allows a click of a button to send the parents’ and students’ tax information to be inserted into the form, to avoid possible stress.

“These can be hard to fill out so it’s nice to get the help,” said 17-year-old Rio Medina, who attends school in Jackson County.

She said Deal’s proposed legislation has been a big topic among seniors at her campus lately.

“A lot my friends are really hurt about it. With his plan to raise the GPA, they’re worried they’ll lose money,” Medina said.

Some families said the proposal would offer an incentive for students to earn higher grades.

“I think it’s better to raise the GPA,” parent Tracy Benson said. “The HOPE scholarship was originally designed for outstanding students.”

Rayner said there is room for speculation about changes to HOPE, as legislation needs approval by the House and Senate. She recommends families still take time to research loans and financial aid.

“They can always choose to cancel,” she said. “It’s better than getting to the day it’s due and not having it available.”

Many college officials also plan to keep students up-to-date about any HOPE changes by e-mail or newsletters.

Rayner said that families who couldn’t make it to the College Goal events have some options. One is to call and set an appointment at a financial aid office.

“Teams don’t care if a student is going to our school or another; we want to help them go to any school,” she said.

Deadlines for FASFA vary at each school, and Rayner advises that students check with the colleges they are interested in attending.