HOPE scholarship changes affect MC students

Paying for Maryville College, or any college or university for that matter, is not
an easy task. With the unstable economy and no person’s job being an absolute
guarantee, the thought of losing any aid for college is daunting.

As a result of the 2011 revisions in the statutes of the HOPE scholarship, nearly
3,000 students state-wide have lost their scholarship or been affected by the
changes in lottery-based aid just this year.

The statute passed through the Tennessee legislature allowed students greater
accessibility to their lottery funds by making the HOPE available for summer

However, in order to accommodate for this accessibility, the statute retroactively
capped the number of credit hours any student having graduated in 2009 receives
in order to be eligible for the HOPE.

The statute designates that students will only receive aid if they are below the
minimum graduation requirements, 128 hours at Maryville, and, therefore, many
are unable to receive assistance for the entirety of their education.
Consequently, 11 seniors at MC were greatly impacted by the changes made to
the HOPE, and current juniors are advised to carefully monitor their credit hours to
avoid the loss of state aid.

While 11 students may seem like a small portion of the Maryville community,
financial aid director Richard Brand recognizes that this is not the case.

“It’s students’ lives,” Brand said. “It’s students’ money and the college is not in a
position to make up those funds arbitrarily.”

Imposing the 128-hour cap is taking a toll on students who are particularly
ambitious, and many worry that the new policies will dissuade students from
pursuing a double major or major/minor curriculum purely based on economic

“This is a policy change that has an impact on students that are largely, for
lack of a better word, overachieving because these are students that have hit the
graduation requirements early,” said Dr. Tom Bogart, MC president.

According to the new statute, once they hit these requirements, they are no
longer eligible for aid.

Tennessee state senator Doug Overbey warned against these repercussions at the
beginning of the debate on this issue and is currently working on passing through
legislation that will reverse the changes, but it is unlikely that those affected now
will be paid back in the future due to the unavailability of funds.

According to statistics drawn by the Tennessee Independent Colleges and
Universities Association, the state government expects a significant percentage of
students to fail to meet their benchmark requirements. As they anticipated, from fall
of 2009 to fall of 2010, only 54 percent of students state-wide were able to maintain
their scholarships.

MC has beat that statistic since 72 percent of students are able to maintain their
scholarships for all four years, but due to the recent revisions, MC may not be able to
reach that number.

One of the 11 students affected by the changes was senior double major Jerica
Johnson. Johnson is an active member on campus, serving as president of BSA,
president of the MC Scots Pep Band, a member of the Keepers of the Covenant, co-
chair of the peer mentors and an employee of the Clayton Center. In an attempt
to receive all the required credits for her double major, Johnson lost her HOPE
scholarship for the final semester of her senior year.

“With the financial aid package here, it pretty much stays the same, but as the
price of school goes up, that’s more money out of my pocket that I have to pay,”
Johnson said.

Brand, Overbey, and many others worry that Johnson’s situation could be a
reflection of thousands more in the upcoming years.

“To take away money from students that go over and beyond, feels like you are
robbing me out of my pocket,” Johnson said. “I hope that the state of Tennessee
realizes that they are really penalizing students who want to double major or
major/minor. That’s a stab in the heart.”

According to Brand, if a student loses his or her HOPE scholarship, they do not
become eligible for any additional institutional aid and must rely on loans. School
administrators are concerned about how difficult it could be for students to acquire
financial assistance on such short notice, as many students are unaware of the loss
of their scholarship until a few months before the next semester.

MC attempts to notify students of their loss of lottery funds as soon as possible,
but it is difficult considering that MC does not have the resources to hire a
professional specifically designated to analyze student statistics on an individual
basis. Brand encourages students to be aware of their GPA and credit hours, as well
as the specifics in the lottery aid-based statutes in order to maintain their financial
assistance for the maximum amount of education.

“It’s not impacting the students that aren’t doing well,” Brand said. “It’s
impacting the students who are doing fantastic. And there is something just not
right about that. Do we really want to penalize students for doing what we are
encouraging them to do?”

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