HOPE fades

Only a third of Georgia students qualify for a HOPE scholarship to an in-state college or university. Before Georgia standardized what it meant by a B average, a majority of public school seniors qualified.

HOPE hasn’t boosted significantly the number of Georgia students who go on to college, says David Mustard, a University of Georgia associate professor of economics. Instead, the program has encouraged high school graduates to attend in-state colleges.

The minimally qualified don’t last very long.

In the past, fewer than half of HOPE scholars have stayed in school and had high enough GPAs to retain the award. Mustard also predicted that the toughened standards will persuade high school students to buckle down.

Several other states now promise college aid to students with less than a B average. Wisconsin requires a 2.85 average, Oklahoma a 2.5 and Indiana a 2.0 (C) average.

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  1. A couple of observations from this Georgia two-year college professor:

    1. An amazing number of students on HOPE scholarships in the past have tested into into remedial algebra, English, and reading classes. Several years ago there were school districts that had over 70% of their students graduating with a 3.0 or better GPA. The crackdown on qualifiers was long overdue.

    2. The primary engine that drove changes to HOPE qualification was finances as noted by the linked article. At one time students were given a book allowance and their GPA was only checked at certain credit-hour intervals (to keep the scholarship). Now the book allowance is gone and students can lose their scholarship at the end of any semester their overall GPA drops below a 3.0. Personally, with the more stringent qualifications in place, I hope they’ll dial back these two changes.

    3. No doubt what will drive the debate going forward is the fact that the original intent of the scholarship program was to help lower-to-middle income families. Because the scholarship is so lucrative, I can’t imagine most politicians advocating to go back to these income caps for eligibility but it does throw fuel on the fire for those groups who poor and minority advocacy groups.

  2. If there are kids who graduate college even though they need remediation then those kids could’ve done that learning in high school and should have.

    Maybe the cost of remedial classes in college ought to be paid for by the students graduating school district?

  3. While part of me likes that idea allen, I can tell you that it would never fly because of the politics of race.

  4. Oh, I know it’s a politically infeasible idea but every now and then the rawness of the abuse gets to be more then a pragmatic outlook can bear. If you do the crime you ought to do the time.

  5. Couldn’t we also address this problem by giving students admission placement tests and not letting them into college unless their scores indicated that they could take college level classes without remediation?

    Why is the burden on the high school to make sure that the kids the colleges choose to accept are ready? Why isn’t the burden on the colleges?

    It seems to me that colleges did screen applicants to make sure they were likely to succeed in the past; so why is their failure to do so now the fault of the high school?

  6. I was a TA at UGA during the early days of HOPE. It always seemed unclear who the intended beneficiaries were. If HOPE is truly intended to help ‘average’ students go to college, then expecting them to maintain a 3.0 GPA in college is asking for grade inflation. On the other hand, thinking that students with a 3.0 at most high schools (where an ‘average’ student probably can earn a 3.0) can maintain a 3.0 in college is not very realistic.

  7. NDC: Georgia delineates four-year universities into four tiers: the top tier is the nationally competitive universities (U. Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State) and the second tier is regionally competitive universities (Georgia Southern and Valdosta State). Last year these five universities had a combined 13,760 freshmen of which 73 were placed into remedial classes.

    Compare that with the bottom tier of four-year schools which have limited bachelor degree programs and are other otherwise two-yeear schools (3756 out of 7076 – 53.1%) and the exclusively two-year schools (4404 out of 7837 – 56.2%). I believe that all of these institutions, mine included, have no entrance requirements. Every student is admitted and then tested for placement. It’s exactly the opposite of what you’re suggesting.

    Now, if you go back twenty years ago, I think you’d find that most of the population in the latter group didn’t go to college. Society now demands that “everyone get a college education” and right or wrong tertiary educational institutions are responding. Thus, I don’t blame the high schools or the colleges in this regard – its a societal shift.

    Where the blame does lie with high schools though is in graduating students with GPAs of 3.0 or better who aren’t minimally qualified for college. Is it really logical that several years ago we had over 50% of students graduating with B or better averages? (Rhetorically, I guess its no less realistic than the notion promoted by NCLB that 100% of students will meet minimum competency standards.)

    lu-lu: I don’t think there has been wide-scale grade inflation in the colleges though I’m sure examples can be found here and there. I absolutely agree that most students with a 3.0 in high school are not going to maintain a 3.0 in college at all times (with the current rules in place, a student loses hope if they ever finish a semester with a cumulative GPA under 3).

  8. lu-lu, yep.

    When I was a student in the 1990s pre-HOPE grant, the average all-student GPA each quarter at UGA was around a 2.5. Spring semester 2007, it was a 3.27.

    Some of this jump is probably a result of UGA become a much more academically selective school, but I’m not buying that all of it is.

    At Georgia Tech, a 3.0 is the GPA required to maintain HOPE and be on the Dean’s list. Doesn’t that seem odd?

    There’s no way a 3.0 in high school is an indication of the likelihood of maintaining a 3.0 in college.

  9. Thomas,

    The pressure that everyone needs to go to college pales in comparison to the pressure that every student should graduate from high school in my experience.

    We can either set the bar so low that every one graduates or we can make sure graduates are actually college ready, but I don’t think we can do both at the same time without compromising the college standards a lot. (unless we get a lot more comfortable with tracking, that is)

    With the HOPE grant, high schools may have made Bs the average grade, and they shouldn’t have, but anyone with a 81 average and 720 on the old SAT isn’t college ready, and I’m not sure it’s the high school’s fault when such a student requires remediation for college work, no matter what tier the institution is.

    To solve the remediation crisis, I say that the college shouldn’t take anyone who isn’t ready. Then students will get serious about college preparation in high school or they will have to pay for private programs. But if colleges choose to take clearly unqualified kids, they need to quit complaining about their not being prepared or take responsibility for teaching the skills. (And when they’ve perfected how, they can show the high schools the methods.)

  10. NDC: I overwhelmingly agree with your second paragraph; it is frightning to me that the Georgia DOE decided to discontinue the Tech Prep track for high school graduation and is directing everyone to “College Prep” curricula.

    However if a student has a B average in high school in college prep courses, then the high school is saying the student is prepared for college. Students can and do graduate with Cs that reflect their academic weaknesses. What’s troubling is when the high schools cave to pressure to inflate grades so these incapable students to Bs which imply they are prepared for college when they are not. My wife is a high school teacher and she sees and feels this pressure constantly and its up to the high school administrators to back good teachers when they enforce standards.

    As for the unqualified kids being accepted, I can only speak for myself but I think my division and my institution do a pretty good job of doing remediation. The faculty may complain about the number of students who lack core skills but the administration (any by extension the Board of Regents) are going to keep accepting anyone who has money or can find it. The system is set in place where students have a limited number of attempts to successfully complete the remedial courses or the students are banned from attending other public Georgia colleges for three years.

  11. Andy Freeman says:

    > Why is the burden on the high school to make sure that the kids the colleges choose to accept are ready? Why isn’t the burden on the colleges?

    The colleges are being forced to accept folks.

    Since the high schools were being paid to prepare said folks AND certified that they’d done so, why shouldn’t they be liable?

  12. In Georgia, colleges are no more forced to accept folks than the high schools are forced to pass them.

    I know that in some states, any high school graduate can go to a community college, but all Georgia colleges are by application and schools have the ability to decline to enroll the unprepared. Whether they use this ability is a separate issue, but there’s no automatic admission to college in Georgia from the student perspective.

    On the other hand, high schools are evaluated by graduation rate (it’s frequently the second factor in making AYP) and the students are the ones who choose their programs of study. So if the majority of a students at a high school elect to be “College Prep,” it’s the school that will look bad if the students make little progress despite a complete lack of ability, effort or attendance on the part of the students. So while it’s theoretically possible to just flunk the majority of the kids at inner city high schools who are unprepared, there’s very little incentive for the schools to allow it to happen, despite as Thomas notes the number of teachers who believe as I do that honesty about where the student really stands and opportunities for high school remediation would be the better course of action.

    Colleges, however, could just elect not to take these students, and that makes so much more sense to me.

    Eventually, if it did turn out that certain high schools had a high percentage of kids who couldn’t get into college despite “success” in high school, I’ve got no problem closing those high schools. Heck, it might actually create enough counter pressure that the teachers at those school might be empowered to raise their standards, making the closing unnecessary.

    But currently, in Georgia at least, it seems that colleges are holding all of the cards.

  13. I did a little googling, and the published requirements for two year colleges are so low as to basically promise admission. Kids just have to have a 2.0 in 16 core courses.

  14. NDC: That is correct – we pretty much take anyone who breathes oxygen and walks on two legs. Considering that many Georgia schools have discontinued assigning Ds, if you pass your core courses (regardless of how many times you may fail some of them), you automatically have a 2.0 in most districts since only the last grade in a course counts.

    Standardized test scores are not required. If a student lacks SAT or ACT scores, they must take placement tests to determine if remediation is required. The placement tests are near farcical in their lack of statistical reliability but if I say too much more about that I suspect the authors of the placement test (a national testing organization) would stick the hounds on me.

    For what it’s worth, you’ll probably feel vindicated in knowing that the Georgia colleges and universities are about to face some accountability issues of our own. The new chancellor has made retention and graduation rates a priority. Obviously this creates a conundrum with the unprepared students–which the Board of Regents and the college and university presidents allow us to admit because of the low entrance requirements. If retention and graduation are going to be priorities, to me there are only three possible solutions: throw lots and lots of money at institutions, lower course standards to ensure a greater number of students pass, or raise entry requirements. (And for the record, if these are our priorities, I think the third option is the only good one, but I suspect that the first and second options are more likely to be forced upon us.)

  15. If what’s happened to high schools is any indication, you certainly going to be proven right.

    It’s a shame, but one we probably could see coming. Once everyone is expect to graduate from high school and go to college, it’s not going to be too long before everyone is expect to graduate from college.

    How far are we from a college degree meaning exactly what a high school diploma meant in the past? Are we supposed to regard that as progress?