New students at public colleges in Tennessee would see their Hope scholarships cut by less than originally planned under a new proposal.
Freshmen and sophomores who enroll at the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University, Tennessee State University and other four-year schools would receive $3,500 Hope scholarships starting in 2015, under a measure presented in the state legislature Tuesday. Juniors and seniors would receive $4,500 a year, according to the plan.
For many students, the amount still represents a $500 cut from the $4,000 Hope scholarships that students receive now. But it marks a step back from Gov. Bill Haslam's original proposal to cut Hope scholarships by $1,000 for freshmen and sophomores.
Students in four-year universities, their parents and the schools themselves have objected to the scholarship cuts, which they say will make it harder to pay for college. Smaller cuts may eliminate the main obstacles to Haslam's Tennessee Promise, the plan he announced in January to offer free community college to all new high school graduates.
"We feel like the governor met us halfway," said Claude Pressnell, president of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, which represents private schools.
Haslam wants to divert about $300 million that has been set aside for Hope scholarships to pay for Tennessee Promise. The Republican governor argues more Tennesseans need to continue their educations beyond high school to compete with workers in other states.
To offset the cost, Haslam proposed cutting Hope scholarships for freshmen and sophomores to $3,000 a year and raising them to $5,000 for juniors and seniors. Many students still would get a total of $16,000 in Hope scholarships, but the state would save money as students leave school or fail to meet academic requirements.
Four-year universities have feared scholarship cuts could lead some families to skip school entirely, or they could wait to matriculate during their junior and senior years, when schools' teaching costs are much higher.
By narrowing the gap in Hope scholarships, Haslam appeared to have addressed at least some of their financial concerns.
"It might help with some of that bleed off," said Ginger Hausser, director of external affairs for the Board of Regents.