Georgia study cites hope for student retention, better grades: model for national plan appears successful

ATLANTA

In Georgia, borderline college students who depend on Hope
scholarships to pay their tuition and fees are more likely to remain in
school take snore courses and earn better grades, according to a new
study by the Council for School Performance, an independent think tank.

Researchers examining the effects of the state’s lottery-funded
Hope scholarship program, now in its third year, found that the grant
motivates students to do well and stay in school.

The study’s findings could up President Bill Clinton’s chances of
selling his national Hope scholarship plan, patterned after the one
here, to politicians in Washington who oppose it.

“There are significant differences between the president’s plan and
Georgia’s program, but there are also significant similarities,” said
Dr. Terry W. Hartle, a vice president of the American Council on
Education.

“The findings from the Georgia study are impressive in their own
right,” Hartle said, “and they have become available at a time when
they might have significant impact on national public policy.”

Since Georgia’s first lottery ticket was sold on June 29, 1993, gas
station and convenience store gamblers have generated more than $333
million for this state’s Hope scholarships. The state has tentative
plans to spend another $161 million on the program next year.

As a result, more than 238,000 students have used the money to
underwrite their tuition and fees and attend the Georgia’s thirty-four
colleges and universities and its thirty-two technical schools.

To qualify, graduating high school seniors must have at least a 3.0
grade average. But keeping that average is a bit harder. Nevertheless,
those students who lose the scholarship when their grades dip below a B
average are staying in college at higher than expected rates.

Something about losing it makes them want to make a turn around,
says Jeanette Huff, the financial aid director at Fort Valley State
University, where just under 10 percent of the school’s 3,000 students
are on Hope scholarships. Most of them get it back once they get past
the freshman year adjustment period.”

Huff, who has seen anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of Fort Valley
State’s Hope recipients lose their grants in the first year, adds,
“They have to understand that even though that 3.0 or better they had
in high school got them the Hope scholarship, they must maintain their
lessons at the college level to keep it.”

The study, released late last month, found that Hope helps relieve
the money crunch many students feel when enrolling in the state’s
ninety-three institutions of higher learning.

The group’s findings are based on its examination of “borderline”
students who graduated high school with averages between 3.0 and 3.16
and entered college in the fall of 1994. About 61 percent of them are
still in school, compared to 51 percent of their counterparts who had
solid grades in core academic areas, but did not receive Hope
scholarships.

Because Hope students’ progress is measured at the end of each
year, the recipients are more likely to work harder to keep their
grades up. “These students have both a definitive goal and feedback and
they acquire credits each quarter,” researchers said.

At Atlanta Metropolitan College, where only eighty-three of the
school’s 1,992 students are on Hope, officials are working to lure more
recipients.

“That figure is up by about 50 percent from last year, and we are
trying to increase that number,” says spokesman John Brown. “When you
look at criteria for Hope, students can go anywhere they want and few
decide they want to go to a two-year school.”

The Council found that:

* Students who gain a Hope scholarship after high school graduation are more likely to stay in college;

* Hope students, as a group, are more likely to be female, white
and enrolled in schools such as the University of Georgia or Georgia
Tech;

* After two years of study. Hope students have slightly higher
college grade averages and significantly more college credits. They
also are less likely to drop out of school.

* Hope students at the state’s two-year colleges have slightly
higher grade averages than their peers at four-year universities.

University officials also are crediting Hope with creating more
diversity on the state’s campuses Black student enrollment at the
state’s schools has more than doubled in the last ten years, and the
scholarship has played a part says Dr. Joseph Silver, a vice chancellor
for the University System of Georgia.

“We cannot underestimate the role of Hope,” he says. “What we’re
doing gives students who ordinarily would not have had an opportunity
to attend college a realistic chance to go.”

Silver and his staff have developed a statewide public awareness
campaign centered on the Hope scholarship. Students in high schools and
middle schools throughout the state have received everything from
fliers to brochures promoting Hope. This spring, more than 300 public
service announcements were mailed out to Georgia radio and television
stations.

One of the scholarship’s original intentions was to open college
doors to groups traditionally under-represented. Study officials found
that, much like white students, African American students on Hope
tended to do better and stay in school longer than their peers without
the scholarship.

About 60 percent of black students who earned Hope scholarships
their freshman year are still enrolled in school, compared to about 47
percent of non-recipients. African American Hope scholars also appear
to he taking more classes and earning more credits than their non-Hope
peers.

“Hope appears to he motivating black students to work harder in
high school, and, by giving them more time to study, increases college
persistence levels and allows them to complete college in less time”
researchers concluded.

Huff, the Fort Valley financial aid chief, sees Hope as a catalyst
for other changes. More non-traditional students — particularly white
women — are enrolling at the historically black school using Hope
scholarships.

“Some are women who started college, got married and had kids and
now have started school again.” says Huff. “Most of the time, their
husbands are working, and they don’t want to get into anymore debt. If
they can get their tuition paid, though, they’re happy.”

Overall, the report and reality of Hope sends a strong message,
according to vice chancellor Silver, who says, “What this says to
students early on is that if you do the work and prepare yourself Hope
is waiting for you in the end.”

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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