In general, the HOPE program seems to have fulfilled all of the goals set for it in 1993. But it has also raised some controversy, and a debate that still goes on.
Proponents of the program point to a 2006 study by the Journal of Labor Economics, which noted that SAT scores across Georgia had gone up by 40 points since the HOPE Scholarship program began. Also, there was a 70 percent increase in the enrollment in black students at Georgia colleges and universities between HOPE's inception and 2006 [source: New Georgia Encyclopedia].
Additionally, some believe the HOPE program has helped to attract more students to Georgia colleges and retain them once they're there. This particularly may have been true during the down economy the U.S. has experienced in recent years. Applications to transfer to Georgia Tech rose 28 percent in 2009 from the year before [source: White]. Georgia colleges and universities have seen some other benefits, as well. For example, the national rankings of the University of Georgia have risen significantly since the HOPE program began [source: New Georgia Encyclopedia].
However, not everyone is in love with the HOPE Scholarship program. Critics point out that merit-based scholarships take public money and sometimes hand it to students whose families could easily pay for college. That means less money available for those who rely on assistance to be able to afford an education. And since middle- and upper-income students are more likely to go to college in the first place, they tend to receive more merit scholarships than lower-income students [source: Campbell].
An article in the National Tax Journal asserted that the HOPE program actually taxes the poor to pay for the rich [sources: Rubenstein, Scafidi]. The logic behind this argument is that poor and minority populations play the lottery more than other groups, and therefore contribute more to the HOPE funds -- but their children receive fewer HOPE Scholarships because they are less likely to attend college.
Other critics have suspected that some high schools, in order to win more HOPE Scholarships for their students, practice grade inflation, awarding higher marks to students who didn't deserve them. Again, the evidence is inconclusive, but the state has taken steps to make grading more standardized. Since 2007, it has been the Georgia Finance Committee -- not the local high schools -- that looks at students transcripts and determines their grade eligibility for HOPE Scholarship awards [source: HOPE GPA].
In the next section, we look at scholarships that other states modeled after the HOPE program.