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Hope-less: Students worry about more HOPE cuts

No other class has been more affected by recent changes to HOPE than the graduating class of 2014.

Jordan Young, a broadcast journalism major, graduated from high school 2010. She was happy to know 100 percent of her college tuition would be covered as long as she maintained a 3.0 GPA.

In the midst of significant changes to the scholarship in 2011, Young’s GPA fell, causing her to lose her scholarship. By the time she gained it back at the end of her sophomore year, the program only paid 84.02 percent of tuition for students with a 3.0. And mandatory fees were no longer covered.

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The current senior now depends on a loan and Pell Grant, a grant provided by the federal government to low-income undergraduate students, to cover the fees no longer paid by HOPE.

The HOPE scholarship was created 20 years ago to pay for Georgia’s best students to attend college within the state. Now, in the midst of rising tuition costs, students like Young worry the scholarship won’t be able to continue without making additional cuts.

According to Student Financial Services, 74 percent of GSU’s freshmen receive the HOPE scholarship. Although the lottery-funded program has expanded to cover more students, individual coverage has decreased for many recipients.

The most significant changes to the scholarship occurred in 2011, when Gov. Nathan Deal raised the GPA requirements for the scholarship, so that only students with a 3.7 GPA would have 100 percent of their tuition covered.

HOPE Lite covers 84.02 percent of tuition for students with at least a 3.0 GPA, but officials often inaccurately round this figure to 90 percent. This means many of the students that previously qualified for full coverage may go in debt in order to pay the remainder of their tuition.

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Additionally, HOPE no longer covers mandatory fees or gives recipients a $100 book allowance. The average student at Georgia State University spends $1,064 a semester on mandatory fees.

Young said the cuts to the scholarship are disappointing.

“I just think the sudden requirement changes are a lot considering most people do their best to maintain their grades and a lot of people aren’t eligible for loans and grants,” she said.

Alyssa Webb, a middle level education major, pays for colleges with loans after losing HOPE her freshman year.

She said she doesn’t think it’s fair that the mandatory fees are no longer covered under the program.

“If I don’t pay my mandatory fees, my classes get dropped so I don’t understand why it’s not covered,” she said. “They keep raising the requirements for full coverage and I don’t think it’s fair. It’s just adding more pressure to students. It’s really shining a light on rising tuition costs, too.”

Dr. David Sjoquist, professor of Economics, said recent increases in student enrollment means HOPE will more than likely continue to make adjustments to its recipient requirements and tuition coverage in the next few years.

“Lottery funding is unlikely to keep up with the full or partial scholarships due to the increase in enrollment and the raise in tuition,” he said.

Georgia State’s diverse student background means without HOPE, many of the enrolled students will not be able to afford college.

Like Young and Webb, students that lose hope may have to take out loans or rely on grants to pay for their tuition. Student Financial Services say 56 percent of GSU’s students receive a Pell Grant. Unlike loans, most grants do not have to be repaid.

Georgia State tries to work with students that have lost their scholarship in an effort to keep them enrolled. The “Keep HOPE Alive” scholarship provides funding to students working to regain HOPE by the next re-entry checkpoint.

Students who participate in “Keep HOPE Alive” are awarded $1,000 in scholarship money via Panther Cash at the end of the academic year.

HOPE recipients that lose the scholarship can only gain it back one time.

Since 1993, the HOPE Scholarship has provided 1.4 million scholarships to Georgia students, totaling $14.3 billion.

The merit-based program was created to give Georgia’s best students an incentive to stay in the state and help students who couldn’t otherwise afford post-secondary education attend a local college or university.

Calls to the University System of Georgia and the communication department of Georgia State regarding any future changes to HOPE and Georgia State’s tuition and mandatory fees were not immediately returned.