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VOL. 37 | NO. 15 | Friday, April 12, 2013

Lottery rebound lifts record 105K scholars

By Harriet Wallace

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More high school students graduating in May will go to college with a Tennessee Lottery scholarship, making it the largest class in the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship’s history.

Officials with the lottery are projecting they will award 105,000 scholarships, a total of $315 million from the lottery pot to 11 programs, including the most widely recognized HOPE grant.

This is a far cry from the financial scare that lottery officials faced in last year’s legislative session.

The Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, a state agency that oversees the scholarships, formed a lottery education subcommittee to look at ways to prevent a deficit yet still keep the program alive. The board put together a list of suggestions and submitted that to state legislators to discuss.

The committee recommended making the HOPE scholarship eligibility a little more competitive.

“Making the requirements stricter would essentially reduce the number of recipients and, in turn, save money,’’ explains Tim Phelps, associate executive director for grants and scholarship programs.

“That was done to keep the lottery scholarships a viable, long-term program. Obviously, when you’re spending more than you’re taking in, something has to give at some point.’’

Funds were low, but the lottery helped raise money for the scholarship account that put them back in the black. No eligibility change was made, and the scholarship requirements remained the same.

Phelps credits the financial success to aggressive fundraising efforts by the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation, which is responsible for replenishing the fund each year.

More than the Hope scholarship

Financial awards are distributed from 11 scholarship programs and cover a variety of students of different ages and backgrounds.

Graduating high school students aren’t the only ones who can get an award from Tennessee’s lottery program.

The HOPE non-traditional scholarship is awarded to college-bound students who are 25 and older and report a gross income of $36,000 or less and have a minimum GPA of 2.75. Last school year, 4,254 students received that scholarship.

There are four other scholarships including – the General Assembly Merit Scholarship, Aspire Award, HOPE Access Grant and the HOPE Foster Child Tuition Grant.

Information on all programs, including amounts and eligibility requirements, is available at tn.gov/collegepays/mon_college/lottery_scholars.htm.

Here’s a complete list of scholarships available through the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship Programs, along with the number awarded and amounts for the 2011-2012 school year:

 

Type

Number awardedAmount
Tennessee HOPE Scholarship 43,814 $152.9M
Tennessee HOPE Scholarship for Non-traditional Students 4,254 $11.2M
General Assembly Merit Scholarship 6,089 $30.2M
Aspire Award 19,625 $94.6M
Tennessee HOPE Access Grant 468 $955K
Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant 10,928 $12.8M
Tennessee HOPE Foster Child Tuition Grant 64 $354K
Helping Heroes Grant 510 $806K
Tennessee Rural Health Loan Forgiveness Program 37 $412K
Tennessee Math & Science Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program 18 $36K
Dual Enrollment Grant 16,995 $8.7M
 

“In the first year of the program, we spent about $93 million, and that served about 40,000 students,” Phelps says. “It has absolutely progressed over the nine years, progressed in terms of helping the number of students’ base award amount. It’s definitely working well.”

Last year, the program put $313 million towards awarding 103,000 student scholarships. Some scholarship programs from the lottery such as the Tennessee Math & Science Teacher Forgiveness Program, offer money to students training to teach in those fields. Money also is awarded to medical professionals who will work in areas that have a health care shortage.

The Hope Scholarship is used for tuition, room, board and books. They are awarded to college-bound high school graduates who have a minimum 3.0 grade point average or score a 21 on the ACT. Annually, the bulk of HOPE scholarships are awarded to students in Memphis, Phelps says.

In addition to GPA and ACT requirements, the program requires recipients to attend one of the 63 public colleges, universities or private colleges in Tennessee.

“I think the HOPE scholarship and all the lottery programs that we administer helps students in some cases make or break a student as to whether or not they can attend college. Additionally, one of the over-reaching goals was to keep the best and brightest in Tennessee. To a certain extent, we do that,” Phelps adds.

In-state benefit kept student close to home

That state-school only requirement alone was the deciding factor for Kim Owens and her daughter, Jordan Owens, now a freshman psychology major at the University of Memphis.

Jordan, a graduate of Hume Fogg Academic High School, wanted to attend an out-of-state university. She had a number of scholarship offers from various sources, but they fell about $6,000 short. Her HOPE scholarship promised to take care of the balance.

That’s when her mother says their decision on her school immediately changed.

“Financial aid is very important, and walking away from the HOPE scholarship was not an option,” Kim Owens says. “It would have been ridiculous not to take advantage of it. Since she met the criteria, there was no question about that. She was going to take part in that opportunity to get the money and then find a school in state.”

Her daughter, who had a choice of four universities in other states, says the Hope scholarship has been a lifesaver.

“I was extremely excited because that was less of a financial burden on my mom,” she says. “Knowing that I would get the Hope scholarship influenced my decision because I didn’t want to be in debt in the long run.’’

Meeting the scholarship eligibility criteria is difficult enough, but Kim Owens says keeping it seems to be just as challenging. In order to keep the scholarship, students must maintain a 2.75 GPA after completing the first 24-48 semester hours.

After reaching 72 semester hours, the student must maintain a 3.0 GPA. If the GPA falls below that, the student is given one semester to bring that average up or risk losing it permanently.

Students can receive up to $6,000 each year at a four-year or two-year school. That’s a lot of money to miss out on, Kim Owens says.

“I made her a part of the HOPE process. She knows about how much (school) cost and what the end balance is. I made her aware and also responsible (for keeping it) to a degree.

“She knows how much it takes and how much it cost and what the investment is to go to school. Once she got down there, she could choose to take advantage of the scholarships, but she is responsible for that grade. If she wants to go to school, these are the things she has to do,” Kim Owens adds.

Her daughter is doing her part, earning a 3.56 GPA in her first semester. She’s active in seven student organizations, including the Student Government Association, Black Scholars Unlimited, National Honor Society and the Student Activities Council.

Jordan Owens says it’s not easy to balance it all with the pressure of keeping the scholarship.

“I didn’t think I would do that well,’’ she says. “In high school, I would wait until late to do homework, but here I told myself, ‘Jordan this is something you need to do,’ and I balanced social life and school pretty well.

“I really like to be involved. I don’t just like to sit in my dorm room.’’

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