HOPE eligibility to be tied to ‘academic rigor’

Students must take advanced courses to receive scholarships



ATLANTA – High school graduates will soon face more stringent academic requirements to earn HOPE scholarship money, as changes made a few years ago are set to take place.

Legislative changes made to the HOPE scholarship in 2011 will be implemented beginning with the class of 2015, requiring recipients to take at least two “academically rigorous” courses during high school. The requirement increases to three such classes for the class of 2016, then four higher level courses for all recipients beginning for the class of 2017.

The list of qualifying courses takes up four pages on the Georgia Student Finance Commission (GSFC) website, so options abound for students. However most fall into the categories of advanced, international baccalaureate, advanced placement, dual enrollment or the upper levels of core courses, such as calculus and genetics.

While students who stick only to an “on-level” track may find it difficult to qualify for HOPE, a spokesman for the GSFC noted 90 percent of HOPE recipients last year met the new requirements.

“The added rigor is not going to impact a significant number of students,” said Jonathan Stroble, senior manager of external affairs and government relations for the GSFC. “I don’t want to speak on behalf of the legislature, but the idea behind the [changes] is to ensure students are more prepared for the rigors of college.”

HOPE – which stands for Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally – is a merit-based scholarship enacted in 1993 by former Gov. Zell Miller and the Georgia General Assembly to entice the state’s best students to attend Georgia colleges and universities.

HOPE eligibility is not tied to financial need, and the program is funded by the revenue from the state lottery.

Since 1993, nearly 1.7 million Georgia students have received a total of $7.2 billion through the HOPE scholarship. Awards range from $1,000 to over $3,000 per semester, depending on which of the University System of Georgia schools a student is attending.

The program has gone through numerous changes throughout its two-decade existence, most recently in 2011 with House Bill 326.

In addition to the requirement for academically rigorous courses, students now have only one chance to regain HOPE funding if they earn below a 3.0 in college, and the funds cannot be used for remedial courses in college. HOPE is also limited to the revenues from the lottery, so the amount available each year may vary.

An additional HOPE scholarship – the Zell Miller Scholar Program – was also created in 2011, which provides additional funds for students who meet higher academic accomplishments. HOPE grants are also available for students attending a Georgia technical college – generally community or two-year colleges.

Stroble noted a student who maintains a 3.0 average at a technical college for one year is eligible for the HOPE scholarship if they transfer to a four-year college.

Counselors with the Fulton County School System have been aware of the changes to HOPE beginning with the class of 2015 and have worked with students to meet those requirements. School officials note Fulton’s curriculum already encourages students to take higher-level courses.

“At this time, we don’t believe the new requirement will pose a hardship for students who wish to pursue the HOPE scholarship. Our students are already receiving opportunities for a highly challenging curriculum,” said Susan Hale, spokesperson for Fulton Schools.

FH 04-30-14

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