HOPE scholarships financially support tens of thousands of Georgia college students each year. A first-of-its-kind study from Georgia State University’s Georgia Policy Labs examines how students enrolled in colleges in the University System of Georgia gain and lose HOPE and Zell Miller Scholarships throughout their college experience.  

To enter college with the HOPE scholarship, students must have at least a 3.0 high school GPA. But to keep the scholarship, students must maintain a cumulative 3.0 GPA for the partial-tuition HOPE Scholarship and a 3.3 for the full-tuition Zell Miller Scholarship. 

One of the findings is that many college students lose, and sometimes regain, HOPE scholarships. 

More than 120,000 students will start a bachelor’s degree program in Georgia with a HOPE or Zell Miller Scholarship. Twenty percent of students who enter with Zell Miller Scholarships will drop to HOPE or lose their scholarship altogether, and 30 percent of students entering with HOPE scholarships will lose them.  

Students who enter college without a HOPE Scholarship can qualify for it as they accumulate college credits and achieve a 3.0 cumulative GPA. One out of eight first-year students who start college without HOPE will gain the scholarship at some point. Students rarely qualify for the Zell Miller Scholarship in college if they didn’t in high school because the award requires submitting a certain SAT or ACT score. 

A range of academic and non-academic issues, including financial and health challenges for students and their family members, contribute to scholarship loss. Students who can’t count on financial support from their parents—42 percent of Georgia students—commonly report struggling to pay for expenses like housing, food and other bills. Students who work the most tend to be the most economically insecure, and long work hours can pull attention away from school.  

Elton, who attended the University of North Georgia and the University of Georgia, describes this dilemma: “…I struggled with paying my expenses. I decided to get a job as a server…. I worked there for a couple months during the week and weekends when I started to notice an impact on my grades….. eventually my GPA started to decline. I honestly believe that it was a trade-off between having to work to pay off bills or spend more time to study and excel in school.” 

Black students, male students and students with a high school GPA below a 3.3 or with an ACT score lower than 20 are more likely to lose HOPE Scholarships. Students with family income less than $30,000, are financially independent and do not get family financial support or attend regional comprehensive universities are also more likely to lose HOPE. 

Wide disparities characterize recipients of the Zell Miller Scholarship at the beginning of college, and disparities grow during the college years. Fourteen percent of students who start college with Zell Miller Scholarships will drop to the HOPE Scholarship, and 9 percent will lose scholarships altogether. Black students, male students, and students without family financial support are most likely to lose the Zell Miller Scholarship. 

GBPI’s senior K-12 policy analyst, Dr. Stephen Owens, fell into the 24 percent of students who enter college with HOPE and lose it after the first GPA “checkpoint” of 30 credit hours. In his first year at the University of Georgia, he relied on HOPE to pay for his tuition, and he took out student loans to cover room and board. But he hadn’t accounted for other costs, like books and car expenses. The first semester, Owen got a 3.2. But the second semester, he couldn’t pay for some of his textbooks until late in the semester, dipped under the 3.0 requirement and lost HOPE.  

After losing his HOPE Scholarship, Owens worked three to four nights a week at local restaurants and hotels to try and pay for tuition, fees, books and living expenses. Working off campus required a car and payments for gas and insurance ate into his earnings. While trying to balance work and school, his grades slipped. Owens started thinking that perhaps he did not belong at the University of Georgia. At the end of his junior year, he decided to leave school with $25,000 in debt and no degree.  

Like so many students, Owens still wanted to get a degree, but the road became longer and more expensive. He found a school where he could take classes online so that he could work full-time while finishing his degree. After leaving UGA at the end of his junior year, it took Owens an additional two and a half years and $15,000 in loans to achieve his bachelor’s.  

The Georgia Policy Labs report recommends colleges and universities take a proactive approach to helping students maintain and gain scholarships, like academic support, targeted advising and specialized financial aid counseling. 

The report also suggests a tiered scholarship approach rather than an “all or nothing” structure. 

One school’s strategy has been to provide student supports and smaller amounts of financial aid to students who lose their HOPE Scholarships. Georgia State University’s “Keep HOPE Alive” program provides $500 per semester, academic coaching, advising and student success workshops to students who lose their HOPE Scholarships. Students at Georgia State University are less likely to lose their scholarships, and more likely to regain them.  

Georgia has gone all-in on HOPE, which has benefitted students, colleges and universities. But having an alternative for students who lose HOPE may give them a chance to get back on their feet, maximize their accumulated credits and experience and complete their educations.  

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