Originally created 04/16/04

Expect more changes to HOPE



ATHENS, Ga. - Modifications to Georgia's popular HOPE Scholarship will start as early as July, but, according to two lawmakers who helped steer the award's recent overhaul, more tweaking could be on the horizon.

"I think this is sufficient for now and probably until 2009 or 2010," said Bill Hamrick, a Republican state senator from Douglasville. "But if we'd been able to get the savings we recommended, the program probably would have been shored up for another five or 10 years."

Mr. Hamrick, over the past six months of 2003, served as co-chairman of a commission charged with overhauling HOPE, a lottery-funded scholarship that's gone to more than 700,000 students statewide since its launch in 1993. The award was said to be in financial straits because the cost of college and the number of students enrolling are outpacing lottery revenue.

After weeks of wrangling, legislators agreed to a plan to safeguard the scholarship. The compromise now heads to Gov. Sonny Perdue for his signature. Mr. Perdue has indicated he would sign the bill.

The plan calls for tightening HOPE's eligibility requirements by instituting a standard 3.0 grade point average at all Georgia high schools. The scholarship pays tuition, books and fees for in-state students who maintain that GPA.

Under the General Assembly's agreement, the $300 book allowance would be cut in half the first year the lottery's year-end balance dips below that of the previous year. The second year the balance stumbles, students will pay for their own books.

The plan also freezes student fee payments at the January 2004 level, which at the University of Georgia is $870 a year. Fees still could be boosted, but students would have to pay the difference. If HOPE's year-end balance drops for a third consecutive year, the fees allowance will be eliminated.

The legislation, Mr. Hamrick hopes, will inspire the state Board of Regents not to raise fees or tuition. Tuition at the university jumped by 15 percent last year, and school officials are stumping for more.

"You might have to sacrifice some quality to protect HOPE. That's the price you pay for protecting it," he said. "On the other hand, you may have to pay a higher price for a better university."

State Sen. Brian Kemp, R-Athens, said the swelling cost of college makes further tweaking of HOPE likely.

He said long-term possibilities to protect HOPE include limiting the scholarship's dollar amount, raising the GPA benchmark and linking the award to SAT scores, an idea backed by Mr. Perdue but rejected by lawmakers.