Opinion: Keep the promise to HOPE Scholars
By Jason Carter
Last week, the Board of Regents increased both tuition and fees for the upcoming school year. With the recent changes made to the HOPE scholarship, eligible students and families will see an immediate increase in the cost of college. Current HOPE scholars and incoming HOPE freshmen will have to pay roughly 13 percent of their tuition bill, plus the full cost of books and an additional $100 to $350 in fees per semester. At UGA, for example, students will pay at least an additional $2,600 per year. At Georgia Southern, it will cost at least an extra $1,800.
These new costs come at a time when families can least afford it. And while the tuition increase was the smallest in recent memory, it highlights a serious problem with the changes made to HOPE this year: The new HOPE scholarship will get worse for students and families over time. As tuition rises, the new scholarship will pay for less and less, and fewer and fewer students will be able to afford to go to college.
For almost two decades, Georgia students who worked hard and got good grades could count on the promise of HOPE if their families could not afford to pay for college. But HOPE’s original promise of educational opportunity for all has been abandoned. Current HOPE scholars and high school seniors will feel the cuts immediately. There will be some students who cannot afford to continue their education.
To be clear, HOPE had to be reformed. But there is a better way.
First, as I proposed during the Senate’s HOPE debate, rather than cut the scholarship for those who need it most, we can preserve HOPE for the greatest number of students and maximize the number of Georgians who receive higher education. By considering these high-achieving students’ financial need and family income, we could save as much as with the current cuts, while also preserving access to the full HOPE scholarship for more than 94 percent of Georgia families. Our state would have more college graduates as a result.
Second, for current HOPE recipients and high school seniors who have had no time to plan for the cuts, we can provide students with at least a one-year “grace period,” and possibly “grandfather” them in for the remainder of their time in college. This change can be paid for with excess reserves from the lottery for education account. The only funds we need are in the bank, and they are over and above the reserve amount that the governor and Legislature has deemed necessary for the fiscal health of the program. This extra money was set aside to help us keep our promise to HOPE recipients, and it is more than enough to fund a grace period for current students.
While partisan politics carried the day in the Georgia Senate, it is not too late to keep our promise to current HOPE Scholars. The governor and Student Finance Commission can enact this “grace period” proposal without additional legislative action. With the relatively small 3 percent tuition increase, the plan is even less expensive.
As a matter of good policy, our state needs more college graduates. And as a matter of fundamental fairness, we owe it to our current HOPE scholars to keep our promise to them as best as we can. The least we can do is use the excess reserve funds to provide a grace period to them and their families.
State Sen. Jason Carter represents the 42nd District, which includes DeKalb County.