Incoming freshmen may face stricter HOPE standards

Tennessee’s Senate passed a bill April 16 that could reduce some HOPE scholarship awards by half by 2015.

Senate Bill 2514 may decrease the amount students receive if they are unable to satisfy both the minimum grade point average and ACT score required to get the full amount of $4,000. The current minimum requirements for the HOPE are a 3.0 high school grade point average or a minimum ACT score of 21.

If the House approves the bill, students will have to satisfy both the grade point average and minimum ACT score to get the full amount. If they satisfy only one of these requirements, their amount awarded drops to $2,000.

“In 2007/2008 we discovered we were spending more than we were taking in,” Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Sommerville and Senate Education Committee chairman, said. “We watched it and discovered this trend continued year after year.”

Gresham co-sponsored SB 2514.

The HOPE fund began losing money in 2007 due to poor lottery profits and expanded eligibility.

“We have to get away from spending more than we are taking in because we do not want this program to ever go in the hole,” Grisham said

Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said he believes that these cuts are “unnecessary.”

“I still cannot see why we are planning for several years down the road when the numbers we have say we are going to meet all our needs,” Berke said from the Senate floor. “Yet we still keep trying to cut these scholarships.”

A report from state lottery officials shows that the lottery has set record gross sales over the last few months. As a result, HOPE is projected to have a surplus at the end of the year.

In response to this increase in lottery sales, Republican lawmakers added an amendment that would have the bill repealed if The Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation maintains its current success.

“This $10 million improvement does not cover the entire deficit,” Gresham said. “If they could maintain that kind of success, we would not need these new changes. If the Lottery Corporation could sustain that kind of success we would repeal [SB 2514] in 2015.”

Democratic lawmakers said they feel that the goals set by the amendment are too severe and will trigger the cuts regardless.

“What I am trying to make clear is that if it is anything below this record year, even if we are turning a profit in the lottery, these changes will still go into effect,” Berke said from the Senate floor. “In the following year, we still have a stellar year, but we do not exactly meet this humungous year, then these cuts are still going to happen.”

According to a study done by the Senate Lottery Stabilization Task Force, middle-income and African American students would be disproportionately affected by the new HOPE requirements. African American students could see an 18 percent drop in eligibility or decrease in the amount awarded.

Low income families that make $36,000 or less a year would see a 22 percent decrease, and middle-income families that make $36,000 to $72,000 a year would see a 35 percent decrease, according to the study.

Adriane King, Tech’s Financial Aid assistant director, said that Tech will also be directly affected.

“I think when you do the math, about 10 percent will be affected here at Tech,” King said. “That’s roughly 500 students.”

The bill passed, mostly along party lines, 20-14.