A New Hope for Non-Traditional Students

Non-traditional Emory University students who are at least 25 could soon be eligible to receive financial relief via the HOPE Scholarship. Emory should take steps to support legislation to make Georgia’s in-state colleges and universities more accessible, which has already gained support in the Georgia House of Representatives. House Bill 928, sponsored by State Rep. Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville), would expand eligibility requirements for the HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) Scholarship to include students up to 15 years out of high school, from a previous cap of seven years.

Not only does the law offer benefits to current and future Georgia students, but it does so without financially risking the HOPE scholarships of current ones — existing scholarship amounts are set and sufficient funding exists to cover the proposed expansion.

In the 2015-16 academic year, 3 percent of Emory’s 6,861 undergraduate students were over the age of 25, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. If current non-traditional students hail from Georgia, they could be eligible for up to $4,480 in annual state-funded grant aid, nearly 10 percent of Emory’s full tuition. That funding would help Emory attract the diverse pool of students it touts as central to its educational mission and make higher education more attainable for non-traditional students.

In 1993, former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller created Georgia’s state lottery to fund the HOPE Scholarship and pre-kindergarten programs. But after the Great Recession forced cuts to the HOPE Scholarship, Georgia diverted money to a legally mandated reserve to protect the scholarship. Sufficient funding exists to finance H.B. 928: Since the recovery of lottery revenue after 2011, the mandated reserve has swelled to $490 million, alongside the growth of an unmandated reserve that has reached $500 million, and for the last five years, an additional $73 million has been put aside to help fund HOPE.

The bill has already passed through the Georgia House of Representatives’ Higher Education committee. Emory’s administration and community should support non-traditional students by advocating for the bill’s passage through the Georgia House and Senate. Backing H.B. 928 is a low-stakes, substantive action the University can take to support educational access within Emory and across Georgia.

The above Editorial represents the consensus opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.

The editorial board is composed of Nora Elmubarak,  Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Isabeth Mendoza, Boris Niyonzima, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois and Mathew Sperling. 

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