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A Gamble on Georgia’s Brightest

25 years and $9.3 billion later, the HOPE scholarship is still helping Georgia’s highest achievers pay their way through college.

By Kalli Drake, Andrew Fisher, Nathan Toburen, and Harrison Young

The HOPE scholarship was implemented in 1993 as a way to sponsor college educations for students from low-income families using the proceeds from a statewide lottery. In the intervening decades the scholarship has been steadily modified and shaped to benefit high-achieving students from all walks of life. The spending has steadily risen over the years from a relatively small $20 million per year to nearly $750 million at its peak. The program has been haunted for years by dire estimates of its future as its spending increased year over year. Here we have worked to compile a timeline of the transformations HOPE has undergone.

  • The vote to amend Georgia’s constitution to allow a state lottery in order to enhance education funding passes by a narrow margin, with 52% of voters approving the amendment and 48% voting against it.
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  • Governor Zell Miller introduces three distinct and individually funded lottery programs: the HOPE Scholarship Program, a voluntary pre-kindergarten program and an instructional technology program.
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  • Georgia’s first lottery ticket is sold, leading to a national record of $1.13 billion in ticket sales, which returned $362 million to the state for education. These numbers allowed the Georgia Lottery to pay back its start-up line of credit just two weeks after its inception.
  • History is made, as the first ever HOPE Scholarship is awarded to Matthew Miller of Snellville, Georgia, to attend Gwinnett Technical College.
  • HOPE makes its first expansion to cover four years of tuition. Legislators expand the family income cap to $100,000.
  • The $100,000 family income-eligibility cap for HOPE is eliminated, and students that lose HOPE in their freshman year will now have a chance to earn it back if they maintain a 3.0 GPA during their sophomore year.
  • Incoming freshman high school students (Class of 2000) must now earn at least a B average in their core classes — english, math, social studies, foreign language and science — in order to qualify for HOPE.
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  • Five years after its inception, the HOPE Scholarship has awarded over 300,000 students more than $580 million.
  • A study finds HOPE has increased the proportion of high-ability students who stay in state. These students enroll at the state’s more selective universities.
  • HOPE has awarded over $1 billion in scholarship money.
  • HOPE has paid out over $1.5 billion to more than 600,000 students. For the fifth year in a row, Georgia leads the nation in providing academic-based financial aid.
  • The Georgia General Assembly created the Improvement of the HOPE Scholarship Joint Study Commission.
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  • House Bill 1325 signed into law, creating the most significant changes in the HOPE program since it began.
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  • The Zell Miller Scholarship is created.
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  • Sjoquist and Winters find a 12.6 percent decrease in STEM graduates as a result of HOPE scholarship.
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  • House Bill 801 becomes effective providing weighted scores for certain college coursework during the 2017-2018 academic year.
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  • Weighted scores now apply for all approved STEM courses through the passing of House Bill 801.
  • Georgia Lottery reaches record profits for first-quarter fiscal year 2018. Surpasses $19 billion mark in cumulative money raised for HOPE and Pre-K programs since the lottery’s inception. HOPE Scholarship awarded to more than 1.8 million college students in total.