Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Wed 11/6/2002 4:19 AM
Random Thought: Hope Scholarships Offer Hope

This is a kind of different reflection.

Many of you may have read a feature by Greg Winter that appeared in the New York Times last week on October 31 that was followed by an editiorial which appeared in the Times on November 4. Both pieces cast doubts on the merits of merit-based scholarships. The editorial was titled, "When A Scholarship Buys A Car." The particular merit-based scholarship both pieces spotlighted was Georgia's Hope Scholarship program. If you haven't read them, both pieces dwell on how a merit-based scholarship programs such as Georgia's "showers students with tuition aid whether they need it or not" and is a "boondoggle" that allows the affluent parents to take advantage of the program and use the money they otherwise would have spent on tuition to buy their children new cars. The writers strongly infer that in so doing, the program excludes the many of the talented and needy, and "threatens the dream of upward mobility through education for the poorest Americans." That may be true in other States, but not in Georgia. Consequently, I would like to take issue with both pieces. While I don't intend to argue merit-based versus need-based programs, unlike the New York Times, I come to praise Georgia's Hope Scholarship program, not to bury it.

I have been at Valdosta State University in Georgia a long time and have seen a lot of change. I came to Georgia in 1967 with halted breath when it was an educational backwater. As a born-'n-bred eastside of Manhattan New Yorker, I came with a distinct geographical prejudice. To me, Georgia was "Bubba land," a region of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, criss-crossed by "tobacco roads" along which lived an ignorant, backward, and hateful people known for their savage bigotry. Since then, I have seen the State struggle to cast off its mark of Cain. Like salmon, it has and continues to struggle to swim upstream against the currents to the educational headwaters where it can spawn a brighter future for its young citizens. And while Georgia is still struggling, with the Hope Scholarships there's more than a glimmer of hope that the State has made headway. Because of that, I would like to point out a few things that make Georgia's merit-based Hope Scholarships a tad unique. First, all of the cost of this merit-based tuition scholarship progam comes solely from lottery money. In these hard economic times when tax-based State budgets, including the budgets of educational agencies, are being drastically cut left and right, that may be more blessing than curse. And while you may argue that a lottery is immoral or that the lottery is little more than a hidden tax on the poor and uneducated who can least afford to pay additional taxes, it is the talented children of Georgia's poor and unedcated, as well as those of the hard pressed and debt-ladened middle class who now have the most hope of getting a higher education because of the Hope Scholarships. Second, by law, the lottery money, unlike in many other states, cannot go into the black hole of the General Fund to be avaricely divided up by a host of warring state agencies or allow politicans to play the tax reduction card or reduce the pool for scholarships. In fact, even in these hard-pressed times, by law, the budget of the Department of Education in Georgia, whose budget constitutes 40% of the entire state budget, is exempt from the axeman's blade while at the same time he is walking the halls of all other states agencies, including the University System. Third, the Hope Scholarships are sacrosanct. It would be political suicide for any politican on either side of the aisle to even consider tampering with them or make them political fodder. Fourth, while some may argue over a need-base verse a merit-base scholarship, the Hope Scholarship program doesn't act like an airline that has overbooked a flight. If a few students from affluent families receive a Hope Scholarship, it is not at the expense of anyone in need. Any student, rich or poor, who gets B average in high school and maintains a 3.0 GPA in college, receives a Hope scholarship. No one is left out. Fifth, sure the scholarship is not perfect, but as the history of existing need-based programs show a lot more needy, a lot more of the close-to-the-cutoff-line working poor and hard-pressed middle class, would hopelessly fall through the cracks of a needs-based scholarship program.

With all that said, everyday I see the Hope scholarship buying far, far more futures than cars. Everyday I see the Hope Scholarship getting far more students into our classrooms than are getting into their new cars. Everyday I talk with lower and middle class students who would not have had the luxury of a college education without the scholarships. Everyday I read in journals of dreamy-eyed students daring to dream that their dreams will come true. Everyday I see a host of faces and hear a crowd of voices in the hallowed halls who without the Hope Scholarship would remain invisible and silent and locked outside the ivied walls. Everyday I see the State of Georgia affording a college education to large numbers of students who otherwise could not afford to attend a college or university. Everyday I see the scholarship showering throngs of disadvantaged students with opportunity who otherwise could not take advantage financially of any opportuntiy of attending a college or university. Everyday, I see the scholarship offering a windfall of hope to so many who would be otherwise hopeless. Everyday, I see Hope lighting up for a multitude what otherwise would be a dim future. Everyday I see far more money saved by the Hope Scholarship going for necessities than for luxuries.

And if I am being redundant, I am so deliberately and for the purpose of emphasis. The Times'editors may wish to dwell on the few affluent who take advantage to get a new car and call the Hope Scholarhship program a boondoggle. I prefer to dwell on the overwhelming majority of lower and middle class students who take advantage of the scholarship to get an education and I call the scholarship a boon.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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