States A Source of Cash For College Students With High Marks
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
In 1993, Georgia started a trend when it offered graduating high school students with good marks scholarships to go to in-state colleges. The legislature pumped lottery money into the "Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally," or HOPE scholarship program. Since then, Georgia's program has been copied throughout the United States. This year, at least seven states approved bills that offer A and B students similar incentives.
According to the Education Commission on the States, states that agreed this year to provide academic grants are Alabama, Alaska, Louisiana, Maine (amended a former grant), Maryland, Michigan and Nevada.
A number of other states already had similar programs, including Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota and Ohio.
HOPE scholarships and most of their look-alikes are granted to students with a B average or higher, but the new college freshmen must retain at least a B average or risk losing state money.
Unlike most financial aid, the scholarship is not based on the family's ability to pay. This helps out middle class families, but some higher education policy experts fear that poor performing, low -income students stand to lose out.
"We have no problem with subsidies for the middle class, but in Georgia this was an attempt to get college attendence rates up. This doesn't help people (at the lowest level) participate in college," said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy And Higher Education.
Callan finds a bill that Texas flirted with last Spring more promising than some of the other HOPE replicas because it targets students who are less likely to attend college.
The Lone Star version, which was tied up in committee when the legislature adjourned, would provide about $2,400 a year to high school students who maintain a 2.5 grade-point average (GPA) once they are in college. The program differs from a host of others because it is limited to families who have an annual income of $25,000 or less.
Maryland's scholarship plan is for families with an annual income of $60,000 or less.
The Georgia program that serves as a model for other states provides money for public college tuition, fees and books for any Georgia graduate, including home study students, with a "B" average in high school.
The Peach State also offers some money to students who choose in-state private schools. Also students going to technical schools can apply for limited funds as well.
While Georgia pays for its program with $200 million annually drawn from state lottery revenues, Michigan's newly instituted Merit Award Scholarship will use tobacco settlement funds to pay for a significant portion of the program.
High-achieving Michigan students can get up to $2,500 for in-state schools and $1000 for out-of-state.
Kathy Christie of the Education Commission On the States says one goal of HOPE-like scholarships is to end the brain drain that occurs when top students leave the state for other schools. These scholarships are only applicable to in-state schools.
Another purpose is to reinforce school reform efforts. These scholarships are "an incentive for kids in high school to maintain certain GPA's," Christie said. "Kids who might not consider going to college might be more open to it if they are going to get some kind of financial aid."
Patrick Callan argues that states shouldn't bribe smart students to stay in-state instead of going off to Harvard. "The best way to do that is attract them with strong universities," he said, citing Berkley as an example of a state school with an excellent reputation.
Generally, there are three sources of aid for college bound students: Federal Pell grants and loans, state aid and student assistance provided by schools themselves. But in Georgia, students who receive a Pell grant, which is need based and targets low-income students, are not eligible for a full HOPE scholarship from the state.
President Bill Clinton pushed through the Hope Scholarship Tax Credit in 1997 - a federal program that allows parents of college students a tax credit of up to $1500 for the first two years of college tuition.
Callan says that since the federal program was put in place, the states are duplicating Uncle Sam's efforts. "This huge federal program addresses the middle class pretty well and for states to pour money in the same direction is mindless."
When Hope Fades
In Georgia, students have not had an easy time keeping up their grades up once they hit college. Only one of three students who received HOPE scholarships for 1997-98 kept them for this academic year.
Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman has proposed a HOPE scholarship program for his state and predicts that 36,000 Alabama students would qualify for it. But researchers who surveyed the state's universities found that many of the students who enter college with a B average fail to maintain that level by the end of their freshman year.
Siegelman's proposal is dependent upon voters in the heart of the Bible Belt choosing to amend the state constitution in October to allow a state lottery. If Alabamans reverse their traditional opposition to gambling, then the government estimates it would spend about $43.7 million on the first year of an approved HOPE scholarship program.