ATLANTA — Only Georgia's top-performing high school students would continue to receive free public college tuition under sweeping changes Gov. Nathan Deal and Republicans proposed Tuesday for the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship.
HOPE would pay for full public college tuition for those students who earn a 3.7 grade point average or better, who also receive at least a 1200 on the SAT. That represents roughly 10 percent of current HOPE recipients.
For years, HOPE has provided free public college tuition to those students with a 3.0 grade point average or better.
Under the GOP plan, students with at least a 3.0 grade point average would receive 90 percent of their tuition.
Deal said Tuesday the state was taking action "to strengthen the HOPE balance sheet."
The Republican governor argued that even with the cuts, HOPE would continue to be among the most generous scholarship programs in the nation.
Deal made the announcement surrounded by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, House Speaker David Ralston as well as House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who said the plan has bipartisan support.
The HOPE scholarship has sent more than 1 million Georgians to college and been imitated by more than a dozen states. But lottery proceeds have not kept pace with rising tuition and skyrocketing enrollment, and the popular program was going broke.
Students with grades high enough to qualify for full tuition would be called Zell Miller scholars — named after the former governor who created HOPE in 1993.
HOPE would no longer pay for books, fees or remedial classes, under the plan. Students whose grades slip while in college would have only one chance to win the scholarship back. High school students would need to take more rigorous classes to qualify for HOPE. And technical college students who receive HOPE grants would for the first time need to demonstrate they are earning good grades.
Pre-kindergarten programs would also see deep cuts. Deal's plan would reduce pre-k to a half-day program — down from 6 1/2 hours a day to four. The change would allow him to add 5,000 more slots to continue to make the program — which has a waiting list of some 10,000 4-year-olds — available to as many as possible.
For years, HOPE has been tied to tuition, rising each time the state Board of Regents voted for an increase, but Deal's plan would separate the two and cut HOPE awards for students. The plan would trim HOPE for students attending private colleges in Georgia from $4,000 to $3,600.
University of Georgia President Michael Adams said Tuesday he's relieved the governor wants to maintain full HOPE awards for the top 10 percent of graduates.
"We certainly are going to have to work hard to increase outside scholarships in some other areas to make this up," he said. "We can't lose sight of the fact that at 90 percent of HOPE, we're still the best bargain in America. We're not quite a good a bargain as we were a year ago, but we should be able to sustain ourselves."
James Dutton, student government president at Georgia State University, said the cuts could have been worse.
But he worried that the gap between tuition and HOPE would continue to grow as tuition hikes grow.
"That can make the difference between those who are able to go to college and those who can't," Dutton said.