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Debate over whether to change HOPE GPA for math, science majors will move to Legislature

We've had a lot of discussion on this blog about whether the HOPE Scholarship should be used to encourage math and science majors. The question has been whether it's fair to hold Georgia Tech biochemistry majors to the same 3.0 GPA requirement to retain HOPE as Georgia Southern English majors or Kennesaw State University sociology majors.

Now, the debate will move to the General Assembly. State Rep. Jan Jones of Milton, a leading Republican with a long-time interest in education issues, introduced a bill that would give college students the same half-point boost to their GPAs for taking tough STEM  courses that they now earn for taking advanced classes in high school. (The bill is House Bill 801.)

And "hard" would be defined as the sorts of classes taken by Georgia Tech students. So, a B in physics would go from a 3.0 to a 3.5 value. A C in calc sequence becomes a 2.5 instead of a 2.0

The criteria for the boost would be set by the Regents, but the intent would be to keep kids in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors that prepare them for the hard-to-fill jobs in the state.

In October, I wrote about a troubling study by researchers at Georgia and Oklahoma State Universities that found the fear of losing HOPE seemed to be reducing the number of Georgia students willing to pursue challenging science and math degrees.

I wrote:

The study of merit-based scholarship programs in several states including Georgia found: State merit-based scholarships reduce the likelihood a student will earn a degree in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field.

“We find that as a result of these merit aid programs, there was a significant drop in the probability of students majoring in STEM,” said David L. Sjoquist, co-author of the study, professor of economics and affiliated faculty in the Center for State and Local Finance and the Fiscal Research Center in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State.

HOPE pays a large portion of tuition at Georgia's public campuses for high school students who quality. To keep HOPE, students need to maintain a 3.0 average in college. To hold onto the more lucrative Zell Miller Scholarship, students must maintain a 3.30 GPA in college.

Should we penalize an engineering major at Georgia Tech or a biochemistry major at the University of Georgia for slipping to a 2.9 in demanding courses?

Last year, I asked the chancellor of Georgia’s colleges and universities this question: Given the rigor of Georgia Tech courses and the state’s increasing need for math and science talent, should Tech be treated as a special case and the GPA threshold to retain HOPE Scholarships lowered?

Chancellor Hank Huckaby told me, “I don’t know how you deal with that but I understand the argument can be made. I don’t have an answer but it keeps coming up. And that argument is getting louder. It, quite frankly, is something we haven’t addressed yet.”

The debate on this issue was vigorous on the blog with one reader noting: "It seems that a substantial portion of this discussion (including many comments) seems to presume that a large portion of GT STEM grades stay in the state of Georgia. Is there evidence to support this? GT grads are in high demand across the country and throughout the world; I assume a very large portion leave the state after graduation. It may be that having a local supply of STEM grads creates a conducive environment for tech-based firms, but a marginal (and the findings are somewhat marginal) decline due to the HOPE requirements seems unlikely to change that environment that much. And, adjusting the standards downwards for certain majors will only help those folks who can make those thresholds (some are likely to still not meet the lower thresholds)."

But a Tech grad wrote: "I graduated from GT right after HOPE started, so unfortunately, I had ZERO chance to raise my 2.6 high enough to get it.  HOPE certainly provides a much greater incentive to work toward a 3.0.  Folks, this school is difficult, even for very smart people. Anyone who says otherwise is either one of those people who always performs well on tests, has a photographic memory, is a true genius, is someone who has no social life and studies for hours on end every day, is a liar, or some combination of the above.  I admit that I could have definitely worked harder than I did, and would have if I'd been able to foretell the future and knew HOPE was coming...but still, there is a definite truth to the fact that holding a standard GPA requirement for every student in GA is not fair to those in more difficult majors and should be lowered."

What do you think?

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.