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Georgia college students will now earn HOPE GPA boost in many science and math classes

Georgia Tech students long lamented they lost their HOPE Scholarships because their science and math classes were tougher than what many peers at other colleges were taking. Their contention: There should be some allowance for demanding courses like quantum computing or organic chemistry.

In 2016, the Legislature said Tech students had a valid point and passed a law that added 0.5 to a B, C or D in approved STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- classes. That is the same bump now awarded to high school students who enroll in advanced courses.

The boost goes into effect for the first time this semester for students receiving HOPE or Zell Miller scholarships at public or private campuses. To find out what classes qualify for the grade enhancement, go here. The courses were selected based on their connection to high demand career fields. Many of these classes are taken by students in their first two years of college.

The list shows both Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State with 107 classes. Emory has 149 classes on the list, while the University of Georgia has 147.  Georgia State has 72.

I am not sure how well known this new policy is as it wasn't mentioned at the Georgia Tech and UGA orientations I attended with my twins, and most parents were surprised and delighted when I told them about it.

In approving the GPA bonus, lawmakers reasoned that Georgia loses when future computer engineers lose HOPE. Job growth in Georgia will be in the STEM and health care sectors, and the state is under-producing graduates in those fields.

A study found that fear of losing the HOPE Scholarship had reduced the number of Georgia students willing to pursue challenging science and math degrees. Researchers at Georgia and Oklahoma State universities found state merit-based scholarships, including HOPE, reduce the likelihood a student will earn a degree in a STEM field. An earlier GSU study found the HOPE Scholarship reduced the likelihood of a student earning a bachelor's degree in a STEM field, citing a 12.6 percent decrease in the number of STEM graduates. The study said the decline was the result of initial STEM majors switching to another major.

To retain 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.

Here is the official Regents release:

Beginning fall 2017, students will receive a boost to their college HOPE GPA for specific, rigorous STEM courses typically offered during the first two years of college. Each HOPE-eligible college in Georgia will add 0.5 to the postsecondary HOPE GPA calculation in specific, approved STEM courses if the grade is a B, C or D.

House Bill 801, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore, Representative Jan Jones, R-Milton, and designed to incentivize students to choose a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field of study, was passed during the 2016 legislative session. After signing HB 801 into law, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed the HB 801 Task Force to determine which courses meet the requirements to receive this new postsecondary HOPE GPA boost.

“I am confident this new initiative will encourage more Georgia students to enroll in STEM classes that will lead to career fields where we have jobs waiting for them,” said Gov. Deal.

The courses currently approved are ones required to obtain a major leading to one or more of the STEM career fields that require at least a bachelor’s degree and are considered to be in high demand in Georgia. The University System of Georgia (USG), the Georgia Independent College Association (GICA) and the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) worked collaboratively, along with input from the

Georgia Department of Economic Development regarding high demand careers, to draft an initial list of rigorous STEM courses eligible for weighting.

“This initiative will encourage our young people to develop the 21st century skills demanded in STEM fields and make Georgia even more competitive in attracting high tech companies to locate and expand in our state,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Jones.

This “STEM Weighted Course List” will be reviewed on an annual basis by the STEM Weighted Course Approval Council, which will have representatives from USG, GICA, TCSG, GSFC and others.

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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.