Caroline Godwin wants to finish college without any student loans, a goal that became easier to attain when she learned the HOPE Scholarship would fully cover her tuition next school year.
The 21-year-old rising senior works at a restaurant to put herself through Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong Campus and to pay for other expenses, like new car tires. She expects to save hundreds of dollars for each of her two remaining semesters because of an increase in HOPE funding in the state’s fiscal year 2024 budget.
“I was so excited,” said Godwin, who is studying early childhood education. “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness’ this is the answer to everything.”
Godwin is among an estimated 100,000 students who attend Georgia’s public colleges on the lottery-funded, merit-based HOPE Scholarship. The 2023-2024 school year will be the first time that HOPE will cover the full cost of tuition since the state revamped its marquee scholarship program over a decade ago.
The decision was met with celebration, but also some confusion. Here’s what it means for Georgia students.
How did we get here?
Gov. Brian Kemp described the HOPE investment as “making history” when he signed the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The spending plan provides nearly $47 million more for scholarship programs at public colleges, a move Kemp said restores HOPE to its “full promise.”
In 2011, the General Assembly reduced HOPE payouts because lottery revenues weren’t keeping up with demand. The state created a higher-tier award, the Zell Miller Scholarship, at that time to fully cover tuition, but restricted it to Georgia’s highest-achieving students.
HOPE paid 90% of tuition, or slightly more at certain schools, at public universities and technical colleges during the 2022-2023 school year. Zell continues to fund 100% of the current tuition costs.
What’s the difference between HOPE and Zell in 2023-2024?
In the upcoming school year, because of the increase to HOPE, the two scholarships will be worth the same.
At Georgia Tech, for example, both the HOPE and the Zell Miller scholarships will cover the full $5,129 per semester cost of tuition. Neither scholarship covers fees or other costs to attend college.
The increase will save HOPE recipients at Georgia State University, Georgia Tech and University of Georgia more than $900 on tuition next school year.
Those who attend some of the state’s smaller public schools, with lower tuition rates, will save a couple of hundred dollars.
Should students still try to earn Zell?
High school students who plan to go to college should still aim for the more academically rigorous Zell Miller Scholarship, said Lynne Riley, president of the Georgia Student Finance Commission. The agency administers the state’s scholarship programs.
“The Zell student, by law, once they have attained that status and sustained it, will always get 100% tuition coverage of the current year that they are studying,” said Riley.
There’s no such guarantee for HOPE recipients. Lawmakers could, in future years, reduce HOPE funding through the state budgeting process, just as they raised it for the upcoming year.
And unlike Zell, the HOPE award rate is based on the prior year’s tuition. So if tuition goes up, even if lawmakers fund HOPE at 100%, it doesn’t cover the difference in tuition cost.
For the upcoming school year, the Georgia Board of Regents held tuition flat at 25 of 26 schools within the University System of Georgia. (Middle Georgia State University, where tuition will increase slightly, will be given a concession so that the HOPE Scholarship still fully covers tuition, Riley said.)
How much harder is it to qualify for Zell?
Zell recipients must graduate from high school with a 3.7 grade-point average, and can’t earn the Zell once they get to college. They also must score at least a 1200 on the SAT or a 26 on the ACT. (Starting in January, the commission will calculate an ACT score that’s equivalent to a 1200 on the SAT.)
It’s a bit easier to qualify for the HOPE Scholarship, which students can do in high school or once they’re in college. The HOPE requires a 3.0 grade-point average. Students don’t have to take the SAT or ACT, which are currently not required for admission to most of the state’s public universities.
Once in college, Zell and HOPE recipients must meet academic benchmarks to keep their scholarships.
What about scholarships at private colleges?
Lawmakers also boosted HOPE and Zell Miller scholarship amounts for students attending dozens of eligible private colleges in Georgia.
At those private schools, the scholarships are set at a flat rate, not at a percentage of tuition.
Next school year, HOPE will pay $2,496 for 15 credit hours per semester, up from $2,282. The Zell increased from $2,977 to $2,985.
To cover the increase at private colleges, lawmakers increased the state budget by $18.2 million.
The numbers by semester
Tuition and scholarship award amounts for full-time students at the University of Georgia, the state’s flagship school.
2022-2023 school year
HOPE Scholarship: $4,410
Zell Miller Scholarship: $4,895
2023-2024 school year
HOPE Scholarship: $4,895
Zell Miller Scholarship: $4,895
By the numbers
HOPE Scholarship recipients for 2021-2022 school year*
At public colleges: 101,953
At private colleges: 11,634
Zell Miller Scholarship recipients for 2021-2022 school year*
At public colleges: 33,979
At private colleges: 3,481
Source: Georgia Student Finance Commission
*2021-2022 is the most recent year for which complete counts are available.