NASHVILLE - A special panel has recommended dropping the minimum grade-point average college students must maintain to keep their state lottery scholarships, but the idea is drawing mixed reviews from Tennessee lawmakers.
Gov. Phil Bredesen and state lawmakers called for a review of the lottery scholarship program earlier this year after the Tennessee Higher Education Commission issued a report showing three out of four students were losing the scholarship before they graduate because of poor college grades.
The higher education commission is expected to vote on the panel's report this week.
To qualify for a scholarship, a student must have a high school GPA of 3.0, or score 21 on the ACT college entrance test. To keep it, students must be enrolled full time, have a college GPA of at least 2.75 after their freshman year and a 3.0 GPA for subsequent years.
The panel wants to drop the latter figure to 2.75, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. But some lawmakers feel that could make Tennessee students less competitive.
"I've never had an employer ask to see my diploma; they wanted to see my transcript," said Rep. Tommie Brown, a Chattanooga Democrat and vice chairman of the House Education Committee. "If you put a transcript down and you came out with the minimum requirements, and someone else puts a transcript down and they have kicked the socks off with a 3.0, 3.75 or 4.0, which one do you think has the advantage?" The panel had explored lowering the 3.0 GPA needed to qualify for a scholarship, but decided not to after polling school counselors who noted that "lowering the academic requirements would have a negative impact on high school academic achievement and course selection," the report said. But the panel concluded that it would help to make 2.75 the cumulative GPA necessary for scholarship retention. "The proposed revision to the college GPA would result in an additional 1,600 students retaining awards, increasing the overall scholarship retention rate after two years of college from the current 35 percent to 44 percent," the panel said. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a former state senator from Memphis who proposed the legislation for Tennessee's lottery and HOPE scholarships, said he supports lowering the cumulative GPA, and would even suggest reducing the qualifying GPA to 2.5. "The main point is to get students to graduate," Cohen said. State Sen. Mike Williams, a Maynardville independent and Senate Education Committee member, agrees "the goal is to keep our young people in school," which is why he supports lowering the cumulative GPA. "A lot of times they'll maintain that 3.0 initially, then they'll have a bump in the road," Williams said. "You're going to have a quarter or semester that you have a rough time. So I think it's something we ought to look at." Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle said the issue isn't so much about where the GPA is set, but "how unprepared some of our kids are." "Any one of these kids is a kid who had a 3.0 and made a good score on the ACT," Kyle said. "Then two-thirds of them can't make a â€˜B' average in college." The panel said it understands students need to be better prepared for the next level, which is why it's also made recommendations concerning that issue. "Students need to be challenged to take courses that lead to college readiness," the report says. "This could be done by requiring certain coursework to receive a lottery scholarship, or by providing an increased dollar amount for students who complete such a curriculum." Tennessee lawmakers are proposing a number of bills this session that would affect the state's lottery scholarship program. One of those bills would reward students who chose to take tougher courses in high school with a slight increase in their HOPE scholarship. Senate Education Chairman Jamie Woodson has said she supports a tougher curriculum. "The better prepared students are will certainly give them better opportunities for success, not only in college, but also the workplace," said the Knoxville Republican, who is working with other lawmakers on a lottery bill. Currently, a lottery-funded HOPE scholarship is worth up to $3,800 a year. But Bredesen's education package includes bumping that amount up to $4,000, at a cost of $9 million a year to the state. "Hopefully that amount will be as much as $5,000 one day," Cohen said. (AP) On the Net: Tennessee Higher Education Commission: http://www.state.tn.us/thec/ Tennessee Lottery Scholarships: http://state.tn.us/tsac/ AP-CS-04-22-07 1311EDT
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