Hope for Families Coping with Rising College Expenses

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broken pencil on SAT test sheet

As a graduate student, I expect my tuition and fees to rise every year. College tuition costs continue to outpace the national rate of inflation since the early 1990s. In fact, the tuition for attending a top Georgia public university has more than doubled in the past decade. Universities, in dealing with drastically reduced state and local support for students, are making up some of their revenue deficits by passing along increased expenses to students.

The 2011 fall semester has significant implications for Georgia students because of recent changes  to the popular HOPE Scholarship Program. A reduction in the number of scholarships awarded, and the amount of coverage the scholarship provides, kicked in this semester. Students who are eligible to receive the full Zell Miller Scholarship must have a 3.7 high-school GPA, and score either a minimum 1200 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT.

The policy of raising academic standards for academic scholarship recipients on the surface sounds like a no-brainer. However, if we take a closer look we can begin to recognize the potential for limitations and inequalities in access to quality post-secondary education throughout the state. 

College Board, the organization which administers the SAT, has consistently found that high SAT scores are strongly and positively correlated to student wealth. Low-income Georgia students are finding it increasingly difficult to gain access to the path leading to post-secondary education and out of poverty. Because they can’t afford SAT prep classes, low-income students may be less prepared than their more affluent peers to score high enough on the exam to qualify for a full scholarship.

Several bills introduced in the 2012 legislative session propose extensive changes to the HOPE scholarship that will clear that path out of poverty and toward self-sufficiency:

Our state legislature has demonstrated through its leadership and efforts its intent to keep the HOPE Scholarship and grant program viable in this state.

We all need to work together as partners to ensure that we’re providing students with access to the resources that will prepare them for college entrance exams and later as citizens ready to take their place as contributing members of their communities.