HOPEless in Annapolis Too costly: Glendening's free-tuition plan for college students runs into fiscal roadblock.

February 16, 1997

IT WAS bound to happen. Gov. Parris N. Glendening's HOPE scholarship plan -- free college tuition for B-average students from low- and middle-income families -- ran out of steam even before it received a hearing last week. Legislators say the state can't afford an open-ended spending program, especially when the governor wants a tax cut.

The HOPE proposal raises more questions than answers. Some people fear it could lead to grade-inflation as teachers try to ensure eligibility for their students. It is unclear how the program might tie in with President Clinton's proposed federal HOPE tuition program. The plan could give students an incentive to avoid tough but challenging courses. And it makes state government, not students and parents, responsible for financing a college education.

Yet overriding all these concerns is the impact this program could have on Maryland's budget. The governor's aides say the cost would be less than $50 million a year when the HOPE program is fully implemented. But the legislature's analysts fear it could cost twice that amount. This is the kind of new entitlement program Maryland cannot afford.

Before the governor plunges into an expensive free-tuition program, why doesn't he fully fund existing scholarships for middle-class students? The Education Excellence Award Program is supposed to pay 40 percent of student need, up to a maximum of $3,000. But because Mr. Glendening has failed to budget more money over the last two years for this purpose, only 28 percent of student need is actually being met, to a maximum of $2,500.

Fully funding this scholarship program designed to help low- and moderate-income students would cost just $11.6 million. It would greatly ease the tuition burden on their parents. Best of all, it is affordable. Legislators should urge the governor to put money in a supplemental budget for increased scholarship aid instead of pursuing a HOPEless cause.

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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