Why, they’re even able to take what tens of thousands of citizens earned as a prize for hard work — getting to go to college for free if proving a combination of intelligence and studious dedication — and make it cost as much as it did before politicians showed up. The “management fee” that politicians appear to charge for handling public money can be unbelievable.
The reference is, of course, to the HOPE scholarship, funded by the Georgia lottery, with the revenue flow being a tremendous success and the political management of this bonanza being an absolute nightmare. And also one that has become so complicated that the citizens probably find it near impossible to figure out what their government has been doing. Let’s just put it in gaming terms and say they loaded the dice so only they could possible win. They robbed Peter (the lottery) to pay Paul (the state budget). They bankrolled their own priorities and tenures in power by systematically diminishing the future and prospects of their citizens as a whole.
This entire mismanagement horror has become impossible to explain in anything of a length sufficient to hold a normal citizen’s attention — only IRS employees are trained to endure such endless manipulation of the books. However, a recent small development may help to explain what has been done to both the young and those older whom the changing economy has unsettled.
THE BOARD governing the Technical College System of Georgia recently approved yet another tuition increase, $10 per credit hour. That’s something the University System of Georgia has also been doing and for the same reasons.
As with local school systems, the state’s percentage of budgetary support for higher education from tax sources has been cut way back even though, in bottom-line numbers, it looks larger. The political hope is few voters will take into account that inflation diminishes true dollar value. As regards the HOPE, which began in 1993, that value number in 2012 is 59 percent of a 1993 dollar.
As regards college tuition in 1993 the lottery/HOPE kicked in for qualifying students (B average, family income under $60,000 a year) every penny of for every credit hour’s cost. At the tech institutions, pretty much nothing more than a strong desire for self-improvement was required. Pursuing a higher education was, in a sense, free. It was a policy that became the talk of nation and did much to put Georgia on the map for outside investors ... and Americans looking for a better place to raise their families.
And, in 1995 as the gambling jackpot kept rolling in beyond all expectations, it really became “free” with student fees and $100 a semester for textbooks thrown in. Shortly thereafter eligibility was expanded to pretty nearly every Georgia young person (particularly given what soon became the notorious “grade inflation” trend in high schools). Family income eligibility was raised to first $100,000 and then “sky is the limit” ... the current standard.
THERE WAS absolutely nothing wrong with spreading those amazing lottery winnings around, even if probably done to win political favor among a growing segment of voters. The problem arose later as slashes in previous support from the shared tax base for education forced tuition increases and invention of “student fees” never before existing. Add in the economic downturn (playing the lottery has not turned down) with accompanying revenue/budget reductions and the present situation is reached.
According to Georgia Northwestern Technical College, starting in the spring of 2013 students will now pay $85 per credit hour or $1,275 for a full 15-hour load. The HOPE grants now cover $60.75 of each hour, leaving $364 for a student to come up with.
Additionally, there will be a new $50 instructional fee, bringing average semester student add-ons to $223 with books costing a current average of about $500.
That means, according to GNTC, for a student with a HOPE grant an out-of-pocket semester price of $1,086.
Now, back to how this all began. The first lottery ticket was sold on June 29, 1993. The first HOPE scholarship was awarded on Sept. 1, 1993 and went to a tech student in Gwinnett. More than 1,400,000 individuals have received HOPE scholarships since then and slightly more than half have gone to technical colleges. Not only that but a grand total of $6.5 billion has been thus distributed with that tech half of all students getting $1.5 billion and students at the state’s public/private places all the rest.
Both types of education have great value, and contribute to this state’s potential. However, that’s a statistic also perhaps worthy of some reflection given where the jobs of today and tomorrow are to be found. Which segment delivers more bang for the buck?
LET’S ASSUME that in 1993 the second HOPE scholarship went to a student at Coosa Valley Technical Institute (now Georgia Northwestern). In that year a semester’s full-credit tuition was $588. (By the way, it was then $1,089 a semester at Floyd Junior College, now Georgia Highlands, and $2,250 a semester at the University of Georgia).
Adjusted for inflation, that $588 becomes $937 in 2012. Throw in all the new “fees” and other costs and the spring 2013 price for students to come up with is $1,086. In a sense a 2013 GNTC student will be asked to come up with more cash (or student loans) than was asked of a 1993 student.
Or, “reverse engineer” that actual price of instruction. That $558 in 1993 tuition works out, at 15 credit hours for the semester, to $39.20 an hour. In 2013 at GNTC the HOPE will cover $60.75 per credit hour that, in 1993 dollars, would be $38.10 per hour.
That means actual instruction/classroom aspects today cost less in real dollar terms than 20 years ago. It also means that, if this pattern is similar at all other state tech/university schools, pretty much every HOPE dollar from lottery operation profits has been swallowed up — absorbed — either in administrative overhead due to massive growth in student numbers and/or by the state’s politicians in the general budget that they control and distribute. It is likely mostly the latter. The student numbers reflect a dream; the tuition shows HOPE is a mirage.
The original goals and principles of the lottery/HOPE remain laudable and desirable. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details and it is not difficult to figure out just who the devil is on this one.
IT’S TIME to turn HOPE into reality by rolling it back to where it all began and rebuilding it from the bottom up … without any political involvement or tax kitty diversions. Which is what Georgians expected — twice — in statewide elections supporting the true lottery/HOPE concept.