A tuition plan for Md.'s middle class Ga. officials say scholarship aid keeps top students home

November 21, 1996|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jean Thompson contributed to this article.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's envisioned scholarship program for middle-class Marylanders is inspired by a highly regarded Georgia initiative that officials there say has helped persuade the state's brightest students to stay at home.

Since 1993, Georgia's HOPE scholarship program -- which is even more ambitious than the one Glendening outlined Tuesday -- has paid for the college education of all state high school graduates with a B average who maintain that average during all four years of college.

About 77 percent of Georgia students with B's or better now stay in the state for college -- more than twice as many as did before the program. Georgia Gov. Zell Miller has championed the scholarship as a core part of his economic development plans, as most college graduates tend to settle near their campuses.

University officials say the academic quality of their student bodies has risen along with the scholarship. The program has had the unintended consequence, however, of ratcheting up pressure on educators to hand out the coveted B's that are required for renewal of the scholarship each year.

"Parents call up, and they say, 'Johnny tells me he's making a C in 101 and he's the first one in our family to go to college and this is the only way he can afford to do it,' " said William Provost, a University of Georgia professor who heads the campus freshman writing program. "They say, 'This is going to take that [scholarship] away from him. How can you do that?' "

Provost, who said he supports the scholarship, compared the pressure with that faced by professors during much of the Vietnam War, when flunking a male student out of college sometimes meant sending him to war.

Glendening said Tuesday that he intended to submit legislation this winter to provide free tuition and fees at state campuses for middle-class Maryland students who earn and keep a B average, much like the Georgia scholarship. In an interview, he said he intended to offer such students an equivalent amount of money to apply toward tuition and fees at the state's private campuses, as well.

What's middle-class?

The precise definition of what it means to be middle-class and other details have yet to be worked out. The governor's press secretary said yesterday that he was considering limiting the program to students from families earning less than $60,000 a year.

Projected costs

Administration officials said the program would begin during fall 1998 with roughly 3,000 of the state's 45,000 graduating high school seniors. The scholarship would likely reach about 10,000 students a year, at a cost of roughly $40 million, when it reached full strength. By contrast, Georgia officials spent $132 million in lottery money last year for more than 125,000 students.

Several Maryland educators expressed support yesterday for Glendening's plan.

"It would be fabulous. Can we do it? That's my only concern," said Helen London, executive director of the Central Scholarship Bureau, a private agency that gives no-interest loans and grants to Baltimore college students. "How can this possibly be funded?"

Glendening touted the scholarship plan in remarks Tuesday to university administrators and business leaders, saying that high tuition charges forced many middle-class students to graduate from college with crushing debt.

The governor is also weighing a freeze on tuition and required fees at the state's four-year public campuses, currently about $3,200 a year, a move that would cost the state $10 million to $11 million annually in lost revenue.

Praise in Georgia

In Georgia, officials call the HOPE program a resounding success. Of the roughly 80,000 Georgians who graduate from high school each year, about 35,000 are named HOPE scholars.

To receive a HOPE scholarship, Georgia high-schoolers in a college-track curriculum must graduate with at least a B average -- three points of four -- or an average of 80 percent. Students not in a college-prep curriculum must earn 3.2 points or an 85 percent mark.

Georgia students enrolling in private colleges in the state rather than public colleges receive a $3,000 voucher toward the cost of tuition and fees, officials said. A large majority of students at the state's largest campuses -- Georgia State, Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia -- are attending on the program.

In Maryland, the new scholarship program would not come at the expense of other college aid, Glendening pledged. And that has won him the praise of education officials, even as they wonder how it will be paid for. "Obviously, we would be in favor of anything to provide greater access for our students," said Patrick Perriello, coordinator for guidance services at Baltimore schools. "It would seem like an enormous amount of money at a time when we are also cutting taxes."

Existing state aid

The state already offers $44.3 million a year in college scholarships, not including campus-based financial aid.

Under the Guaranteed Access grant, low-income students receive money to cover tuition, mandatory fees, room, board and books, when federal aid is included. The income level cannot exceed $20,280 for a typical family of four.

The Educational Assistance Grant is given to students who are above the cutoff for the Access grant, but still need aid to afford college. Two-thirds of recipients come from families with annual income of $30,000 or less.

The Maryland Distinguished Scholars program awards top-flight Maryland students $3,000 a year for college costs if they enroll at a campus in Maryland. The average grade-point average was 3.95 out of 4 points last year.

Additionally, state legislators maintain a pool of discretionary money worth $6.5 million from which they award scholarships to constituents.

Pub Date: 11/21/96

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