There are currently more than 25 states which provide a reward in the form of financial aid for college students with eligibility solely due to excelling in academic achievement, as opposed to some form of financial demonstrated need. Approximately, thirteen states, most located in the South, award an excessive of more than half of their financial aid awards based on academic achievement.
Today, that movement may be picking up increased momentum.
During the years 2010-2011 with Georgia’s Hope scholarship merit based program facing financial difficulty, lawmakers agreed to increase the academic requirements for the Hope and Zell Miller scholarships instead of defunding the program or adding a financial need component for eligibility.
College administrators appear to agree that the change will help keep the program funded and remain solvent.
There are some who argue that the increased academic rigor tends to favor students from higher income families; however, the changes have leveled the playing field with respect to grade inflation and lack of grade standardization among schools. The Georgia legislature added an SAT/Act minimum score target along with a minimum GPA for the largest of the
hope scholarship awards, the Zell Miller Scholarship. Having an SAT/ACT minimum level provide a standardized measure of achievement to balance the student GPA scores which can have different weighting and difficulty levels based on the curriculum and grading standards of each particular school.
Georgia—whose Hope scholarship program is one of the largest merit-based programs
in the country and is seen as a standard by which other programs are measured—is at the forefront of an increasing national debate over state-backed financial aid for college students. The discussion centers around whether states should provide aid to the highest-achieving students, regardless of income, or should state funding go to students based on financial need?
Advocates of merit scholarships, or a combination of merit and financial need, say focusing
on achievement attempts to reduce a “brain drain” of talented residents going elsewhere to college in other states, and rewards those who study hard and apply themselves. There is also the thought that if a sports athlete can receive scholarships based on physical ability then why can’t an “academic athlete” receive a similar award for intellectual ability.
Georgia has not rested on the changes made in 2010-2011. Recently, the Georgia Legislature defined an increased set of academic requirements, or academic rigor, that high school students must attain to be considered for Hope scholarship or the Zell Miller Scholarship. This combined with the minimum GPA and minimum SAT/ACT (for Zell Miller) helps to ensure a level playing field for determining what actually defines the academic excellence level required for merit eligibility. With these continue improvements,
Georgia will continue to be at the forefront, and therefore, the standard, by which other states measure their own merit based programs.