Updated: 7:00 p.m. Friday, March 11, 2011 | Posted: 6:59 p.m. Friday, March 11, 2011
HOPE reduction creates new losers
By Vincent Lloyd, Devin Fergus
As professors at Emory University and Georgia State University, we have seen the benefits of the HOPE scholarship. Smart and promising students from throughout the state have attended college because of it.
We recognize that changes to HOPE are necessary. Those advanced by Gov. Nathan Deal, however, will disproportionately affect students from rural Georgia, working-class students and black students.
The changes to HOPE add advanced course work and standardized test scores to the qualifications for a full scholarship. Such advanced course work is offered less frequently in Georgia’s rural school districts than in suburban Atlanta.
When asked about this issue in an interview, Deal responded that technology could be used to offer “virtual” courses — a hypothetical, untested and possibly impractical response.
Even more worrying, the proposed SAT minimum of 1200 would immediately disqualify large numbers of bright, motivated Georgia students from receiving a full scholarship. Only 2.7 percent of black students in Georgia score 1200, in contrast to 21.5 percent of white students. Only 5.4 percent of working-class Georgia students (whose parents make less than $40,000) make that score, in contrast to 30.8 percent of upper-class students (whose parents make more than $140,000).
Especially troubling is the effect that the changes to HOPE would have on students from rural Georgia. While 40 percent of students from Alpharetta High School would qualify for full scholarships based on the SAT requirement (about 166 students), just 1.8 percent of students from Meriwether County would qualify (about two students total last year).
The bill’s revision to include scholarships for the top two students from each high school would have little impact.
On average, of the 100 smallest counties in Georgia with data available, just 6.6 percent of students there would qualify based on the SAT threshold, versus 15 percent overall.
We believe that students from Atlanta as well as students from Meriwether County and the rest of our state who have worked hard and shown their academic promise are worth investing in. We do not believe that students who go to school in Atlanta, are born of wealthy parents, or are white are inherently smarter than others.
In our classrooms we have seen qualified students from throughout the state, from all types of family backgrounds, who have thrived — and who have enriched our classes.
Grade-point average, which is currently used to determine HOPE eligibility, does a much better job of picking out promising, qualified students than SAT scores (class rank is also a good measure). Indeed, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling has concluded that “the time has come to end the practice of using ‘cutscores,’ or minimum admission test scores, for merit aid eligibility. The scarcity of aid and the advantages affluent students have in gaining access to preparation for admission tests or pre-tests require us to demand change.”
States and colleges have been moving away from using SAT scores; Georgia is moving in the opposite direction.
Gov. Deal altered his proposal for pre-k education based on the data. We think the data on HOPE for higher education is also important.
The University of California system conducted a study of how grade-point average compares to SAT scores in predicting college grades for 81,722 freshmen. The results were decisive: grade-point average predicts success better than SAT scores. Given the impact of adding an SAT threshold on students in rural Georgia, we think the data speak loud and clear.
There is a simple solution to providing funds for the HOPE scholarship. Stop providing them for students who don’t need the money. Talented students from wealthy families are most likely not making decisions about whether to stay in Georgia because of financial considerations.
Our resources would be better directed at those thousands of students from rural Georgia and from working-class families whose lives will be dramatically changed for the worse if HOPE is taken away.
Vincent Lloyd is an assistant professor of religious studies at Georgia State.
Devin Fergus is a visiting scholar at Emory’s James Weldon Johnson Institute.