Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Rachel Rifenberg, a UTC mechanical engineering student in her fourth year, tries to work loose a broken gear inside a printer Friday afternoon. Rifenberg had lost her HOPE scholarship but regained it after a new law changed the GPA requirement from 3.0 to 2.75.
Changes to Tennessee's lottery scholarship program have helped more minority, male and low-income students maintain their scholarships, but most of the money awarded still goes to those who had a good chance of staying in school anyway, according to a recent report.
The General Assembly in 2008 lowered the grade-point average needed for eligibility from 3.0 to 2.75 at the benchmark of 48 credit hours.
It also created a provisional path that allows juniors and seniors to renew their scholarship with a 2.75 cumulative GPA and a 3.0 in the previous term.
"Low-income students at community colleges benefited the most from the lower GPA; however, those students get very few of the dollars spent," said David Wright of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, which released the report.
"Most of the dollars go to mid- to high-income students at four-year universities," he said.
Studies by THEC show that "with or without the scholarship, those students had better than a 9-in-10 chance of coming back to college anyway, so we are spending all this money ... mostly to benefit kids who didn't need that," he added.
Over the last two years, $11.1 million was given in scholarships for students who benefited from the lower 2.75 GPA. About two-thirds of that -- $7.5 million -- was for students from mid- to high-income class at four-year institutions, the report shows. Only about $300,000 was for low-income students at community colleges.
The Tennessee lottery scholarship report is based primarily on the merit-based HOPE and General Assembly Merit scholarships and ASPIRE, a merit-based award with a need-based component.
One of the original goals of the policy change was to increase the numbers of students who renewed their scholarships, said Wright.
Students who keep their scholarship through their first year of college have a much greater chance of staying in school and keeping the scholarship in future years, said Wright.
At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 57 percent of students who lost their lottery scholarships from 2009 to fall 2010 were freshmen, with between 24 and 30 attempted hours.
Scholarship losses were 29 percent for sophomores and nine percent for juniors, with 61 to 90 attempted hours, according to UTC data.
Chattanooga State and Cleveland State community college officials said they didn't have the data readily available.
About 3,500 students were able to maintain their scholarship in 2009-10 as a result of both changes -- the provisional path and the 2.75 GPA -- costing the state more than $11 million.
Rachel Rifenberg, a junior majoring in chemical engineering at UTC, lost her HOPE scholarship as a sophomore because her grades were too low but got it back under the changed law.
"With the intensity level of core classes, you get a couple of B's and C's and stuff and it really starts messing with your GPA," said the 22-year-old, who expects to graduate next year.
So far this year at UTC there are 113 provisional lottery scholarship recipients -- less than 3 percent of the college's total -- compared to 33 in 2009-2010 and 56 in 2008-2009.
"Even though percentage-wise it's small, it has a big impact in those students," said Dianne Cox, director of financial aid at UTC.
The schools also have a stake in keeping students enrolled. New state criteria measure retention in calculating how much state funding a school receives.
"Any student who loses HOPE is potentially a loss of a student retained and, besides being a loss for students, it's also a loss for the university in terms of the funding formula," Cox said.
And while it's important to improve retention in general, Wright sees a need to focus on helping students whose chances of staying in school go up significantly if they receive and retain a lottery scholarship.
"Generally speaking, those groups are males, low-income students and minority students," he said.
More of those students are provisional than nonprovisional lottery recipients, meaning the change helped them, but the overall impact was marginal, he said.
"The fact is that we want to get our overall education attainment rates up [and] you don't do that by serving the kinds of students you always serve. You have to reach out to nonparticipating folks like first-generation students, adults, underserved populations, low-income students," Wright said.
"You've got to do that for self-interest, in terms of economic competitiveness for the state, and for altruistic reasons of trying to improve the quality of life and opportunities for folks."
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2008 LOTTERY SCHOLARSHIP CHANGES
1. Lowered the minimum grade point average criteria at the benchmark of 48 cumulative credit hours from 3.0 to 2.75.
2. Allowed students to maintain scholarships as long as they have:
* Attempted at least 72 cumulative credit hours;
* Maintained a cumulative GPA of at least 2.75;
* Earned an average of at least 3.0 for the semester when eligibility was reviewed;
* Enrolled full-time in the semester when eligibility was reviewed;
* Will enroll full-time in subsequent semesters until their GPA recovers to 3.0 and above.
Percentage of Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship students who received provisional scholarships in fall 2009 for Tennessee Board of Regents and UT system:
* TBR 4-year: 422 students, 6.9 percent of all recipients
* TBR 2-year: 30 students, 9.6 percent
* UT System: 266 students, 5.3 percent
* Independents: 166 students, 5.4 percent
* Total: 884 students, 6.1 percent
Provisional and nonprovisional recipients by gender and sector, fall 2009
* TBR 4-year: 59.7 percent female; 40.3 percent male
* TBR 2-year: 70 percent female; 30 percent male
* UT System: 54.9 percent female; 45.1 percent male
* Independents: 62 percent female; 38 percent male
* Total: 59 percent female; 41 percent male
* TBR 4-year: 62.5 percent female; 37.5 percent male
* TBR 2-year: 80.5 percent female; 19.5 percent male
* UT System: 56.2 percent female; 43.8 percent male
* Independents: 66.1 percent female; 33.9 percent male
* Total: 61.5 percent female; 38.5 percent male
Scholarship recipients and dollars awarded under revised GPA rule
* 1,607 students; $5.9 million
* 1,856; $7 million
* TBR 4-year: 76 percent white; 14.4 percent black; 9.6 percent other
* TBR 2-year: 87.3 percent white; 4 percent black; 8.7 percent other
* UT System: 83.1 percent white; 10.3 percent black; 6.6 percent other
* Independents: 78.3 percent white; 15 percent black; 8.2 percent other
* TBR 4-year: 80.7 percent white; 10.6 percent black; 8.7 percent other
* TBR 2-year: 84.9 percent white; 8.4 percent black; 6.8 percent other
* UT System: 88.1 percent white; 5.8 percent black; 6 percent other
* Independents: 83.3 percent white; 7 percent black; 9.7 percent other
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...