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Hundreds of TN college seniors are losing their HOPE scholarship this semester

11:32 PM, Jan 3, 2013   |    comments
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Hundreds of Tennessee college seniors are heading back for their final semester without their HOPE scholarships and it has nothing to do with their grades.

A rule passed by the state legislature in 2009 is just now starting to affect college students. The rule capped the HOPE scholarship for students at 120 course hours, or the number of hours required to graduate.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission estimated in 2011 that 2,891 students who entered college in the fall of 2009 could max out their scholarships before they graduated.

The University of Tennessee- Knoxville says they have 292 students affected.

The legislature changed the rules on HOPE scholarships to allow them to use the money for summer hours.

What was seen as a victory by many students, came with a cost.  Lawmakers re-implemented a cap on hours to keep the costs down.

At Maryville College, where 11 students lost their scholarship, they say good students are feeling the negative effects.

Jessica Curtis is one of those students. She started Maryville College in the fall of 2009 and has used the HOPE scholarship for the three-and-a-half years she's been in school.

"I am a writing and communications major and an art minor and because of that art minor, I've exceeded the credit hours for the HOPE scholarship," said Jessica Curtis. "It was interesting to know that I'm having support taken away by the state for exceeding academic expectations."

"I knew how hard she had worked for the 3.0 [GPA] and I looked at the grades and was like, she's earned this and it's being taken away," said Jody Curtis, Jessica's mom.

Students who started receiving the scholarship in fall 2009 are the first group to experience the cap on hours, but Maryville College's VP of Enrollment, Dr. Dolph Henry, doesn't think will be the last.

"I think that we'll have, as time goes on, more and more students. The unfortunate thing is that these are our better students that are impacted," said Dr. Henry.

While the news was a surprise to Jessica and her mom, Dr. Henry says they alerted students with a letter more than a year ago. He said they are making it a priority to help students understand the changes.

"We have told the students, if there is a significant financial hardship, let's work with you. Let's see what we can do," Dr. Henry said.

Curtis and her mom say they will be able to handle the extra $2,000 bill, but they are worried about others.

"It's just kind of hard to cut us off this last semester when they've supported us for this long," said Curtis.

The Curtis family has contacted their local lawmakers in hopes of changing the law for future students.

UT's financial aid department says they too sent out a warning more than a year ago.

Both schools say they want all future HOPE scholarship students to be aware of the hours cap so they too don't lose their scholarship.

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