A new study of the Hope Scholarships program, which is funded by the Georgia lottery, contends the program could run out of money for the broad base of students who now receive the funding.
However, the study includes a number of assumptions to reach its conclusion, and Ray Perren, president of Lanier Technical College, noted all of those assumptions “probably are not going to play out exactly the way they assume.”
The study done by the Committee to Preserve Hope Scholarships concludes, “that portion of Hope that supports the state’s average students — those for whom the program was created — will be out of money” by 2028.
The committee assumes annual increases of 7.5 percent in tuition at state colleges, a 2.5 percent annual increase in lottery funds and a 6 percent annual increase in the number of Zell Miller Scholars, who get full tuition.
If those assumptions were true and no changes were made in the scholarship program, the Hope Scholarship money would have a deficit of $70 million in 2028.
Perren pointed out the lottery for fiscal year 2016, which ended June 30, provided $1.1 billion for Georgia scholarships. According to the study, that level of funding would be reached in fiscal year 2018.
He added, “I don’t know that it (Lanier Tech tuition) has ever gone up 7.5 percent” in one year. He said tuition has not increased at all in a couple of years.
The Hope program was started by Gov. Zell Miller with the idea of providing free tuition for any Georgia high school student with a B or better GPA. That first provision for scholarships has been changed and enlarged.
The lottery funds now provide money for scholarships for students with a 3.3 GPA; full tuition for Zell Miller Scholars, students with a GPA of 3.7 or better and 1200 or the SAT or 26 on the ACT; Hope grants for technical colleges; and funding for the state’s pre-K program.
Standards for those grants also have changed as money available has been less and more.
The basic Hope Scholarship requirement went from a 3.0 to a 3.3 in 2011. Scholarships for those students now pay for 71 to 88 percent of tuition, the study notes, depending on the college attended.
The grants for technical colleges included a requirement for a 3.0 GPA. Perren said that provision lasted only a year, and it has been a 2.0 GPA since then.
Perren called Hope “a great program, and it has benefited literally thousands of students at Lanier Tech over the years.”
He said the scholarship program has become more important at the school because more students are seeking degrees as opposed to certificate programs.
Perren said nearly 25 percent of Lanier Tech’s students in 2015 were seeking degrees — that was only 12 percent in 2008.
Jill Rayner, financial aid director at the University of North Georgia, said 7,269 students received Hope money in 2015-16 for a total of $20,574,980.
She also noted that the scholarship no longer pays for all tuition costs, nor books and fees.
“Students are currently already looking for those alternatives” for funding, she said.
Rayner said the financial aid office suggests students plan in high school to take College Level Examination Program, or CLEP, tests that can provide college credit with high enough scores. Advanced Placement exams also offer a way to get credit, she said.
Rayner noted CLEP tests are “a lot cheaper than tuition.” She noted UNG’s Gainesville campus has a testing center where tests can be taken.
“You should never pay for anything that has to do with financial aid,” Rayner said.
Chip Lake, the president of the committee that prepared the study, said the group did not recommend potential solutions for the funding problem it predicts.
“We wanted to raise awareness about the looming funding crisis on the Hope Scholarship. It will be up to the legislature to make a determination regarding the best path forward in order to make Hope solvent for generations to come,” Lake said by email.
Perren said he doubts the problem predicted will come to pass. If the funding becomes an issue, he predicted, the legislature would make changes to protect the program — as it has in the past.