No easy answers for scholarship funding

Strictly merit-based scholarships hurt students with fewer resources.

Back in 1993, Georgia enacted the HOPE Scholarship, which provides merit-based scholarships, through lottery proceeds, to in-state students to attend any of Georgia’s state universities. It has been an enormously popular program, but not without critics.

Some researchers have made a case that such a large, strictly merit-based scholarship actually widens the gap in class and racial disparity. And, since HOPE is funded through the lottery, poor people wind up paying a disproportionate chunk of the cost. More than half of HOPE recipients lose their funding in the second year because of a failure to meet the merit requirements.

In 2003, Tennessee enacted its own version of HOPE (albeit with far fewer resources). A recent study by University of Missouri researcher Charles E. Menifield found that poor students are far more likely to lose their HOPE scholarships in Tennessee. Moreover, poor African-American men are at the greatest risk of losing funding.

“The people who are least likely to lose their scholarships, typically, are the ones that can afford to pay for college,” says Menifield.

The study is of pivotal importance because of diminishing resources in state coffers, and suggestions by some, in both Tennessee and Georgia, that the merit bar be raised for HOPE scholarships.


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