The HOPE Scholarship's 120-credit-hour cap penalizes students who seek more hours through double majors, minors, concentrations and study abroad experiences.
Jeff Gerkin, director of UT's Financial Aid Office said the 120-credit-hour cap had unintended consequences. He believes the Tennessee Legislature wanted to move students through educational programs and prevent people from taking advantage of the scholarship.
"One hundred twenty hours is the generally accepted hour limitation for degree requirements across the state," Gerkin said.
But these limits affect UT students like Kimberly Pettigrew who went to study abroad for a semester, a trip that may make Pettigrew lose her scholarship before she graduates. If the scholarship were changed to an eight-semester scholarship, Pettigrew would benefit from the scholarship more.
"I wouldn't have to pay for tuition and probably not housing either," Pettigrew said.
UT does have some leeway with the cap. For example: some majors require 124 credit hours and are still covered by the HOPE Scholarship. But other programs, such as the five-year architecture program at UT, exceed the HOPE Scholarship's limits. In cases such as the architecture program, Gerkin said, UT is "limited by what it states in the law."
Sen. Jamie Woodson, chair of the Senate Education Committee, sat down with financial aid administrators through the organization Tennessee Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators to hear their concerns, and the HOPE Scholarship was one of the issues. The legislature is aware of the problem, and Gerkin believes there are some bills that might fix the problem. However, he has yet to be shown any that might affect the HOPE Scholarship.
Gerkin suggested the HOPE Scholarship would work better on a semester system. Instead of working on a 120-credit hour system, the scholarship would use a system that works off the number of semesters taken. That's the way the State Grant Program; also run by TSAFF is set up.
"You would think that since one [program] is like that, then it would be that way for the other," Gerkin said.
The HOPE Scholarship is available to 99 percent of in-state freshmen.