This blog was co-authored by Allie Schneider, a Southern Education Foundation Policy Fellow.

HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) is Georgia’s best-known state financial aid program. Funded by the Georgia Lottery, it has provided college scholarships and grants to almost 2 million public, private and technical college students in Georgia during the more than 25 years since its inception in 1993.

Over time, lawmakers have modified eligibility requirements, award amounts and rules that affect who can access the scholarships and grants that make college more accessible and affordable for students across the state. Among its successes, HOPE has enticed many Georgians to stay in-state for college and promoted college preparation in high school, but it has also reflected patterns of inequality by race, ethnicity, income and geography.

Lawmakers must balance questions of effectiveness, equity and sustainability as they adapt HOPE to serve Georgia’s evolving needs.

1991 – Georgia General Assembly passes an amendment to the State Constitution designating lottery revenue to be used entirely for educational purposes.[1]

1992 – Voters ratify the amendment, allowing for the creation of the Georgia Lottery through the Lottery for Education Act.[2]

1993 – The first lottery ticket is sold in June, and the first HOPE scholarships are awarded in September. At its inception, the scholarship awarded two years of full tuition to students who graduated high school with a B average and had a family income of less than $66,000 per year.[3]

1994

  • Legislators raise the HOPE income cap to $100,000.[4]
  • Scholarship expands to cover four rather than two years of tuition, a $100 per quarter book allowance and payment for mandatory fees.[5]

1995

  • The income cap is eliminated entirely.[6]
  • Zell Miller adds a second chance for students who lose their HOPE scholarship after their first year of college, so that students who complete their second year of college with B average will receive HOPE their third year.[7]

1996

  • Mandate is added that high school students must maintain a B in their core classes (English, math, science, social studies and foreign language). The mandate does not become effective until the high school graduating class of 2000.[8]
  • Scholarships for students attending private school increases from $1,500 to $3,000, and private school students must now earn and maintain a B average.[9]

1997 – Nontraditional and home school students can now qualify retroactively for HOPE awards after their first year of college.[10]

1998

  • The National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs ranks Georgia No. 1 of 50 states for academic-based student financial aid due to HOPE.[11]
  • Voters pass an amendment to the Constitution limiting the use of lottery funds to specific educational programs and purposes, so that “scholarships, pre-kindergarten programs and shortfall reserves shall receive priority over teacher technology, training and capital.”[12]

2000

  • Students receiving federal Pell grants can now also receive HOPE scholarships.[13]
  • State reaches milestone of 500,000 HOPE awards, totaling $1 billion in scholarships.[14]

2003 – The Georgia General Assembly creates the Improvement of the HOPE Scholarship Joint Study Commission, which is tasked with identifying and suggesting actions to ensure that sufficient funding for the HOPE Scholarship continues for years to come.[15]

2004 – The most significant changes to HOPE eligibility requirements since its inception are made, including a new high school GPA calculation by the Georgia Student Finance Commission, a cap on attempted credit hours covered by HOPE, a freeze on mandatory fees payment and future payment reductions in the case of budget shortfalls.[16]

2007

  • HOPE’s new high school GPA calculation goes into effect.
  • HOPE reaches milestone of 1,000,000 awards.[17]

2008

  • HOPE’s Georgia residency requirement is increased to 24 months, and an addendum specifies that noncitizen students are not classified as in-state unless the student is legally in the state (with some considerations given to refugees and lawful permanent residents).[18]

GED recipients, home study students and graduates of ineligible high schools can now gain HOPE eligibility if they score in the 85th percentile or higher of a standardized college admissions test.[19]
HOPE award is increased from $3,000 to $3,500 for students attending private colleges.[20]

2011

  • Changes are made to HOPE’s funding structure, eliminating awards for books and mandatory fees and creating the Zell Miller Scholarship, which covers full tuition for students who graduate high school with at least a 3.7 HOPE GPA and a score of at least 1200 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT. Students must maintain a 3.3 GPA to continue receiving Zell Miller in college.[21]
  • HOPE Scholarship amounts are now determined based on lottery revenue and a percentage set by legislators each year. A maximum semester credit hour cap is added for HOPE and Zell Miller, along with a seven-year graduation limit.[22]
  • New high school academic rigor requirements are added for HOPE and Zell Miller, to take effect between 2015 and 2017. The GPA requirement is changed from 2.0 to 3.0 for the HOPE Grant.[23]
  • Students cannot regain HOPE after losing eligibility at two checkpoints.[24]

2013 – The HOPE Grant GPA requirement is reversed back to 2.0.[25] Nearly 9,000 technical students had lost the HOPE grant due to 2011’s GPA eligibility increase, and this reversal allows approximately 5,000 technical students to regain funding.[26]

2014

  • The Zell Miller Grant Program is created. This program provides full-tuition scholarships for technical school students who have met the eligibility requirements to receive HOPE and have earned a cumulative GPA of at least 3.5 at the end of any quarter or semester.[27]
  • Home school and ineligible high school standardized test eligibility requirement for HOPE scholarships and grants is lowered from the 85th to the 80th.[28]

2016

  • HOPE standardized test eligibility requirement for home school and ineligible high
    school graduates is lowered from the 80th to the 75th Zell Miller eligibility for home school and ineligible high school students is expanded for those who score in the 93rd percentile.[29]
  • A cumulative HOPE GPA calculation weight of 0.5 is added for B, C and D grades received in college courses taken in specific Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subject areas.[30]
  • Advanced computer science is added to the list of approved high school academic
    rigor courses.[31]

2017 – Students who graduated high school with a technical diploma or two approved technical certificates can now receive the HOPE Grant for the first 30 semester hours of an associate level degree at a Technical College System of Georgia institution.[32]

2018 – Members of the Georgia National Guard now meet residency requirement for HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships and grants.[33]

2019 – The state extends the deadline for completing degrees while receiving HOPE or Zell Miller. For students who receive their first payment in the Summer 2019 term or later, their expiration limit is set at ten years after high school graduation. Active military service does not count towards the ten-year limit.[34]

2020

  • Emergency regulation due to COVID-19 allows unaccredited home study completers and graduates of non-eligible high schools who were unable to sit for the ACT or SAT due to cancellations to test through December 30, 2020. Upon earning a sufficient test score, students may qualify to retroactively receive HOPE.[35]
  • Dual enrollment students who have reached the funding cap can receive HOPE and Zell Miller Grants, given they meet eligibility criteria.[36]

2021

  • Students with a disability that prevents them from full-time academic study can now apply for an extension on HOPE’s expiration limit.[37]
  • Due to the pandemic, students in the high school graduating class of 2021 are allowed to sit for ACT or SAT tests through June 30, 2022.[38]

For over 25 years, the HOPE scholarship has dominated the state’s financial aid system, making college more affordable for nearly 2 million students across Georgia. However, while numerous modifications have been made to the program to preserve funding and increase academic eligibility requirements, none of these changes have addressed structural inequities that students face based on race, ethnicity, income and geography.

Although the scholarship has been successful in keeping many high-performing students in the state and increasing college preparation rates, significant disparities remain. The state’s emphasis on increasingly selective merit-based aid means funding needs continue to grow while a large portion of Georgia’s students still lack adequate resources needed to attend and graduate college without significant debt.

As Georgia looks towards the future, the state must build a financial aid program that is sustainable and supports the education goals of all Georgians.

Endnotes

[1] Barlament, James. (2021 April). HOPE Scholarship. New Georgia Encyclopedia. https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/education/hope-scholarship

[2] Ibid – New Georgia Encyclopedia.

[3] Ibid – New Georgia Encyclopedia.

[4] Ibid – New Georgia Encyclopedia.

[5] Georgia Student Finance Commission. (July 2011). Scholarship & Grant Award History. https://tinyurl.com/j35pzpex

[6] Ibid – New Georgia Encyclopedia.

[7] Georgia Student Finance Commission. GSFC Chronological History. https://gsfc.georgia.gov/news-and-events-0/media-kit/gsfc-fact-sheets/gsfc-chronological-history

[8] Ibid – New Georgia Encyclopedia.

[9] Georgia Student Finance Commission. (July 2011). Scholarship & Grant Award History. https://tinyurl.com/j35pzpex

[10] Ibid – GSFC, Scholarship & Grant Award History.

[11] Ibid – GSFC, GSFC Chronological History.

[12] Ballotopedia. Georgia Lottery Appropriations, Amendment 2 (1998). https://ballotpedia.org/Georgia_Lottery_Appropriations,_Amendment_2_(1998)

[13] Michael Lanford. (April 2017). The political history of the Georgia HOPE scholarship program: a critical analysis. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23322969.2017.1305258

[14] Ibid – GSFC, GSFC Chronological History.

[15] Campbell, N., & Finney, R. (2005). Mitigating the Combined Distributional Consequences of the Georgia Lottery for Education and the HOPE Scholarship. Social Science Quarterly, 86(3), 746-758. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42956090

[16] H.B. 1325, Georgia General Assembly, 2003-2004 Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2004). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/11562

[17] Ibid – GSFC, Scholarship & Grant Award History.

[18] S.B. 492, Georgia General Assembly, 2007-2008 Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2008). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/24380

[19] H.B. 152, Georgia General Assembly, 2007-2008 Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2008). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/20571

[20] Ibid – GSFC, Scholarship & Grant Award History.

[21] H.B. 326, Georgia General Assembly, 2011-2012 Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2011). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/32988

[22] Ibid – H.B. 326.

[23] Ibid – H.B. 326.

[24] Georgia Student Finance Commission. (July 2011). HOPE Scholarship Program at Public Institutions: Regulations – 100. https://apps.gsfc.org/Main/publishing/pdf/2011/2012-HOPE-PUBLIC.pdf

[25] H.B. 372, Georgia General Assembly, 2013-2014 Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2013). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/38877

[26] Diamond, L. (2013, March 22). Senate passes bill to change HOPE grant. The Atlanta Journal Constitution. https://www.ajc.com/news/senate-passes-bill-change-hope-grant/ZP1yPm5MdH26JfSw2Uj3mK/

[27] H.B. 697, Georgia General Assembly, 2013-2014 Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2014). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/40473

[28] H.B. 810, Georgia General Assembly, 2013-2014 Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2014). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/40727

[29] Georgia Student Finance Commission. (May 13, 2016). 2016-2017 State Scholarship, Grant and Loan Program Regulations

[30] H.B. 801, Georgia General Assembly, 20015-2016 Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2016). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/47612

[31] Ibid – H.B. 801.

[32] S.B. 186, Georgia General Assembly, 2017-2018 Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2017). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/50635

[33] S.B. 82, Georgia General Assembly, 2017-2018 Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2018). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/49990

[34] H.B. 218, Georgia General Assembly, 2019-2020 Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2019). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/54745

[35] Georgia Student Finance Commission. (2020). Executive Summary of Substantive Changes: FY 2021 State Program Regulations.

[36] Ibid – GSFC, FY 2021 State Program Regulations.

[37] S.B. 187, Georgia General Assembly, 2021-2022 Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2021). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/59715

[38] Georgia Student Finance Commission. (2021). Executive Summary of Substantive Changes: FY 2022 State Program Regulations.

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