Students in Georgia who earn above a B-average are rewarded with grants to attend college tuition-free, thanks to funding provided by the state lottery. This funding sponsors the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally Scholarship Program, and has generated more than $2 billion. According to the Georgia Lottery Corporation statistics, the scholarships that these funds support have helped over 600,000 students attend two- and four-year in-state colleges.

This system has been in effect since September 1993 and the benefits for the state are increasingly visible: More of Georgia’s brightest students are choosing to attend in-state colleges, boosting the reputation of Georgia’s colleges and universities and helping to keep talented young people in the state. However, the criterion for receiving this sort of scholarship is not broad enough, similar to the problem that Michigan has with its own Merit Award.

In 2000, Michigan set up a scholarship program similar to Georgia’s, but instead using the funds won in the settlement against tobacco companies. In the recent elections, residents of the state voted against Proposal 02-4, which would have transferred this money for new health care and anti-smoking initiatives. Nearly 150,000 college students use Michigan’s Merit Award. Students earn the grants if they pass the Michigan Educational Assessment Program exams, which are five exams ranging from Mathematics to Writing that are administered junior year of high school.

Scholarships such as the Michigan Merit Awards and Georgia’s lottery-funded program are excellent resources to increase instate college enrollment. These grants incite students to stay in the state; the benefits of which are now being seen in both Michigan and Georgia. But, the criteria for these scholarships is flawed because it does not accurately assess students’ merit. Georgia uses the student’s grade point average in order to determine merit; while this is a better indicator than the standardized tests, it, too, is faulty and incomprehensive. A more thorough examination of a student’s capabilities would ensure that these scholarships go to those who deserve them.

While establishing merit-based scholarships is a necessary step for all states, need-based grants must also acquire more funds. The guidelines for need-based scholarships are currently too rigid and need to be reevaluated in order to better serve middle class families. States should also recognize the importance of bolstering their need-based scholarship programs in order to give as many people as possible the aid that will enable them to attend college.

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