With HOPE cuts coming, students turn to summer school

Corey Boone was planning to graduate from Georgia Tech in December, but that was before state lawmakers revamped the HOPE scholarship.

Beginning in August, the scholarship will provide less money to all but the highest-performing students.

The change means Boone would need a loan to pay for fall semester. Instead, he’s taking a full load of classes this summer, while HOPE still covers all tuition, so he can graduate early and most importantly, without any debt.

Across the state, some students, such as Boone, are rushing to get as many credits as they can during the final days of full HOPE. While final numbers won’t be in for months, colleges are seeing a modest uptick in summer school enrollment.

As of last week, Georgia Southern University reported a summer enrollment increase of more than 5 percent, and Southern Polytechnic State University is up by more than 4 percent. Georgia Tech is up by about 1.5 percent, and Kennesaw State University reported a 1 percent increase.

Boone said summer classes “just made the most sense.” If he was in school this fall, he would have faced a nearly $500 shortfall between the scholarship and his semester tuition.

“I started college thinking I would graduate debt-free because of HOPE, and this is the only way I can make that happen,” said Boone, who is majoring in finance and marketing.

Students with at least a 3.0 GPA saw HOPE pay for all tuition and provide some money for books and fees. But lawmakers revised the scholarship to keep the Georgia Lottery-funded program stable instead of allowing it to run out of money.

Starting this fall, it will pay full tuition for only about 10 percent of recipients. The rest will receive scholarships that cover 90 percent of the 2010-11 academic year tuition rates — not the increased 2011-12 academic year rates.

Georgia State University student Daniella Bass usually takes one class each summer to stay on top of her double major in sociology and political science. This summer, because of the HOPE changes, she’s taking three.

“This is the cheapest option for me, but this is not the easiest way to get your credits,” she said. “I fear I’m not going to get as much out of my classes.”

Professors and students cram a semester’s worth of learning into just a few weeks during summer sessions. Professors teach at a faster pace and students have less time to learn the material, Bass said.

About 30 percent of the students in the University System of Georgia receive the scholarship.

“I don’t want to make this sound like it’s all about me, because there are a lot of students who are in the same position,” said Bass, “but when you’re paying for college, every penny really counts.

“We’re going to miss what HOPE provided, not just tuition, but the other money, too.”

HOPE used to provide $300 a year for books and some money toward mandatory fees, ranging from $62 to $435 a semester, depending on the college. That money is gone.

Gov. Nathan Deal and lawmakers acknowledged the changes may create a financial hardship for some students, but they said it will protect the program for future recipients.

HOPE was on track to run out of money by 2013 because lottery revenue could not keep up with soaring enrollment and tuition.

Bass and Boone see more students walking around campus, and their classes are full, because of a combination of the HOPE changes and the lack of summer jobs and internships.

“At first I thought I would work this summer to raise the money to pay for what HOPE won’t cover, but I was afraid I wouldn’t find a job or that I wouldn’t earn enough money,” Boone said.

“Going to school this summer was the least-expensive option. I’m getting as much out of HOPE as I possibly can.”

A new HOPE

College students will continue to get the HOPE scholarship, but the program will be more complicated effective with the fall semester beginning in August. Here is an overview of some of the changes. Additional information can be found on the University System of Georgia's website, www.usg.edu, or the Technical College System of Georgia's site, www.tcsghopeinfo.com.

  • Only 10 percent of recipients will see HOPE cover all tuition. This applies to high school valedictorians, salutatorians and those who graduate high school with at least a 3.7 GPA and a 1200 SAT (math and verbal sections only) or 26 ACT score. They must maintain a 3.3 in college to keep the full award.
  • Students with at least a 3.0 will still get HOPE, but the amount will vary each year and will be tied to lottery revenue, not tuition rates. For the 2011-12 academic year, the award equals 90 percent of the 2010-11 academic year tuition rates.
  • Students will no longer get money for books or fees.
  • The $4,000 award for students attending private colleges drops to $3,600.
  • Students will have one opportunity to reclaim HOPE if their grades drop. They used to have unlimited chances.
  • Allots $10 million to offer needs-based loans, carrying a 1-percent interest rate. Information about the loans is expected in coming weeks.