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Marketing scholarships a challenge for Tennessee Lottery

Nov 3, 2003, 6:45 am

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Tennessee Lottery

Myron Oglesby-Pitts imagines advertisements for the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship on TV screens, billboards, hot-air balloons and buses.

She can see herself and staff members driving a "HOPE Hummer," a Humvee that could navigate the hills and valleys of the state's 95 counties, giving high school students and guidance counselors an impressive symbol of a college education made more affordable by lottery revenues.

All of those things, she said, might be necessary to get the word out about requirements for the lottery-funded scholarships available next fall.

But Oglesby-Pitts, the new deputy director of the Tennessee Student Assistance Corp., has other mountains to climb first. She'll need to do a lot of fund raising to supplement a state marketing budget of less than $100,000.

"That won't touch it," she said of the money available and the challenge of reaching hundreds of thousands of students, parents, counselors, teachers and principals.

The Tennessee Education Lottery Corp. hopes to sell the first lottery tickets by Feb. 10. Revenues will pay for HOPE and other scholarships and grants designed to keep students in state for college.

That plan is simple enough. But even with a new, red-white-and-blue HOPE logo ready to go, Oglesby-Pitts and other state education officials are realizing the complexities of explaining the scholarship requirements in a way that is concise, catchy, accurate and far-reaching.

The basic, $3,000-a-year scholarship, for example, has been touted as requiring either a B average 3.0 high school grade-point average out of a possible 4.0 or a score of 19, out of a possible 36, on the ACT college-entrance exam.

But it isn't quite so easy to explain.

The GPA must be on an unweighted scale, meaning it must be computed without extra points for honors or Advanced Placement courses. Students must earn the 3.0 in college-prep classes and overall. They also must score 890 on the SAT, out of a possible 1600, if they take that instead of the ACT, which is more common in Tennessee.

Add in different requirements for four other types of awards, and you've got a tall marketing order.

"It is very complicated," Mary Morgan, director of communications for the Tennessee Board of Regents higher education system, said during a meeting last week of state officials working on the issue. "But the fact that it's complicated doesn't mean that it doesn't need to be accurate."

It also will need to be somewhat flashy to connect with 18-year-olds, Morgan added in an interview. Leaflets and speeches probably will not be enough.

"You can't expect high school guidance counselors to be able to get information in the hands of every student in a way that they'll absorb it," Morgan said.

But Oglesby-Pitts is counting on those counselors to do what they can. She has hired three people to cover the state and visit schools to make sure everyone has the right information.

Pat Cole, guidance coordinator for Metro schools, said that she will bring counselors together before Thanksgiving to make sure they understand the requirements. Brian Noland, associate executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, said the state will need to have a marketing plan rolling by then. With GPAs rising and falling on every class, first-semester final exams will be "a high-stakes exercise," he said.

Beyond explaining how to get a scholarship, officials will need to say what HOPE won't get you: automatic admission to your favorite college or university. A 19 on the ACT or a 3.0 GPA will win a scholarship, but neither is likely to make the cut for admission to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Current college freshmen who graduated from high school last spring also will need to know the rules, because they will be eligible for scholarships next year. (Students who graduated from high school before 2003 will not qualify.) UT and some Board of Regents schools have started talking to their students.

Bill Ford, a finance professor at Middle Tennessee State University, said freshmen need to know that if they don't earn a 2.75 GPA this year, they could be forfeiting $3,000 a year for each of the next three years.

"We've got to shout in the ear of every freshman, 'Come to class and make your grades.' "

Misty Cox, an MTSU freshman who was the valedictorian of her West Tennessee high school, said she was unaware of the scholarships before the university started sending e-mails about them recently. Cox had received three or four by Tuesday.

Oglesby-Pitts is not expecting to get any money from the lottery corporation to help with marketing the scholarships. Lottery spokesman Will Pinkston said the lottery plans to market the games.

"We're over here generating the money for the scholarships, and TSAC is over there administering the scholarships."

The Georgia Student Finance Commission had a $300,000 marketing budget in 1993, the first year of the Georgia lottery. The money paid for brochures promoting that state's HOPE Scholarship and workshops for guidance counselors and financial aid directors, commission spokeswoman Alma Bowen said. There were no other forms of advertising by the commission and the lottery itself didn't do any specific scholarship marketing, though it has always made its education mission clear, lottery spokesman J.B. Landroche said.

Morgan said the lack of lottery proceeds going to scholarship marketing was a legislative "oversight." But Oglesby-Pitts is optimistic that she can persuade some of the state's wealthier citizens to help make HOPE visible "on every corner where people turn."

As for getting that pricey Humvee, she said, "There's someone out there who can make that happen."

Requirements for Awards

Students must be Tennessee residents and must attend an accredited Tennessee college or university to qualify for any of the lottery-funded scholarships or grants. Students also are required to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Here are the other requirements for each award:

Tennessee HOPE Scholarship

This scholarship is worth $3,000 a year at four-year schools and $1,500 a year at two-year schools.

" Students who have not yet graduated from high school will need to score at least a 19 on the ACT or 890 on the SAT or earn at least a 3.0 unweighted grade-point average both overall and in their college core courses.

" Students with a GED rather than a high school diploma will need a score of 525 on the GED and a 19 on the ACT or 890 on the SAT.

" Students who have been home-schooled must score a 23 on the ACT or 1060 on the SAT or, if they have a GED, must score a 19 on the ACT or 890 on the SAT.

Students who are Tennessee residents and college freshmen this year whether in Tennessee or another state will need to:

" Have scored a 19 on the ACT or 890 on the SAT or earned a 3.0 high school GPA both overall and in the college core courses.

" Earn an overall GPA of 2.75 in their freshman year and complete 24 hours of for-credit coursework.

The Tennessee HOPE Scholarship is the base for two other awards. Students can receive only one of these awards. If they qualify for both, they will receive the General Assembly Merit Scholarship:

General Assembly Merit Scholarship

Students who qualify for HOPE will earn an additional $1,000 a year if they:

" Earn a 3.75 unweighted high school GPA both overall and in the college core.

" Score at least a 29 on the ACT or 1280 on the SAT.

Need-based Supplemental Award

Students who qualify for HOPE will earn an additional $1,000 a year if their parents have an adjusted gross income of $36,000 a year or less.

There are also two other awards:

Tennessee HOPE Access Grant

This award, worth $2,000 a year at four-year schools and $1,250 a year at two-year schools, is for students who do not qualify for the HOPE Scholarship. It is not renewable at the end of the year, but students who earn a 2.75 GPA and 24 credit hours in their freshman year of college will then qualify for the HOPE Scholarship.

To earn the access grant, students will need to have all of the following:

" A 2.75 high school GPA both overall and in the college core courses.

" An 18 on the ACT or 860 on the SAT.

" Parents' adjusted gross income of $36,000 or less.

Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant

Every student who attends a Tennessee Technology Center is eligible for this $1,250 annual grant. There is no GPA or ACT/SAT requirement.

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