Should Georgia expand needs-based aid for students shut out of HOPE?

Georgia has thousands of low-income students who cannot afford college because they don’t qualify for the HOPE Scholarship or its more lucrative offspring, the Zell Miller Scholarship. HOPE pays for 70 to 85 percent of tuition depending on which public campus students attend, while Zell Miller covers full tuition.

Confronted with this problem, many Georgians insist the solution is prodding low-income kids to work harder in high school so they can win one of these merit scholarships. Middle-class parents point out they insisted their kids had to make at least a 3.0 GPA in high school to earn HOPE.

Policy experts offer a different tack: Georgia ought to give out more financial aid based on student need rather than academics. And they cite an economic rationale: The state of Georgia needs a highly educated workforce to thrive and that means producing more first-generation college graduates.

One of those experts is Claire Suggs, who reviewed state aid data for a new Georgia Budget & Policy Institute analysis and found only 30 percent of low-income students in the university system get either HOPE or Zell Miller, compared to 42 percent of middle- and upper-income students.

Even with HOPE, some Georgians still need more aid since the scholarship does not pay for room and board or books and fees, which can add up to $15,000 a year. “We realize the escalating costs of post-secondary education are causing tremendous burdens on families. And options are being reviewed as we speak by the Legislature,” said Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Fran Millar, a Republican senator from Dunwoody. “We have to do something.”

To read more, go to the AJC Get Schooled blog.

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