ATHENS, Ga. -- With its mandate that students maintain a B average, the HOPE scholarship tempts University of Georgia professors to inflate grades -- and some succumb to the temptation, according to a published report.
When HOPE began in 1993, the percentage of A's and B's received by the university's freshmen hovered at about 50 percent. That percentage soared to 62.7 percent by 1996, according to a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Undergraduate grade-point averages rose slightly during the same period, according to the study. The weekly cites University of Georgia professors who say they inflated grades to help students.
"I just weakened," history Professor Will Holmes told the publication. "My (teaching assistants) and I participated in some pretty wholesome grade inflation."
Irate parents pressure professors, too, such as one who told a foreign-language instructor, "I'm a lawyer. Now what are we going to do about this C?" the publication reports.
Using numbers provided by the university, the newspaper analyzed freshman grades from 1993 to 1996 and grade-point averages for undergraduates during the same time period. The paper also looked at the proportions of students who retain the meritbased scholarship.
Responding to the study, Stephen Portch, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, said the rising freshman grades bear watching, and he noted there "may be some national rise" in grades handed out by sympathetic or pressured teachers.
But Dr. Portch asserted the dramatic rise in freshman grades at the University of Georgia most likely means the school simply attracts better students these days, thanks in part to HOPE.
"When I talk to students, they tell me they're working harder," he said. "I wouldn't make the HOPE connection necessarily."
Lauded as a way to keep Georgia's best and brightest students in Georgia, the $160 million HOPE program provides more than $30 million to students at the university.
President Clinton borrowed the scholarship name for a new federal tuition tax credit. And administrators hope the better students lured to Georgia schools because of HOPE scholarships later become good contributors to school programs, said Wyatt Anderson, dean of the university's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
The Chronicle of Higher Education story suggests professors are split about whether instructors are feeling pressure to boost grades, and many wish the school allowed a plus or minus system of grading to allow them to better portray subtle differences in student work.
"A concern about HOPE is that students may be less interested in learning than in what they can do to get a good grade," Doris Y. Kadish, chairwoman of the university's romance languages department, told the weekly.
No one knows for sure the extent of the grade inflation problem, or whether students have actually improved in quality and preparation as some statistics suggest, but Dr. Anderson said he still believes in HOPE as a way to urge students on to excellence.
"The good vastly outweighs any bad consequences," Dr. Anderson said.
A study of how HOPE scholarships affect student quality and grading at the university would "make a wonderful topic for a graduate (thesis) in education," he said.
About half of freshmen lose HOPE scholarships after their first year, according to the study. Black freshmen are much more likely to lose the scholarship than their white classmates.
The Chronicle of Higher Education also notes students are logging onto a student government site on the World Wide Web called "The Key," which shows which teachers give the most A's and B's.
"For me and my friends, trying to keep the 3.0 (B average) is always on our minds," Shea Cunningham, a junior art major, told the weekly.