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Save HOPE, keep students here
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More than 100 Long County teenagers this weekend and more than 600 of Liberty County’s next weekend will take what likely is one of their first rites of passage into adulthood, walking across stages to receive their high-school diplomas.

The commencements are nothing short of exhilarating for students, parents, friends and family alike — it is a proud moment when a graduate steps out into the world on his or her own.

Or at least sort of on their own. Students today are faced with incredibly tough decisions. Go to work in a stalled job market where it could take years to climb up to a decent-paying job, or defer that step to improve career possibilities in college or a technical school.

Even the further-education path has dilemmas for most students: how to pay for college. Tuition costs continue to rise, and scholarships become more competitive, often leaving students — and sometimes their parents — taking out hefty student loans. But as job markets across the country continue to struggle, those loans can become a huge burden for a college graduate who’s just trying to make ends meet.

Georgia’s HOPE scholarship for many years has been an impressive helping hand for the state’s college students. But like almost everything in the current economy, the scholarship — funded by the state’s lottery — has suffered cutbacks. While HOPE once offered full tuition funding to those keeping a B average in school, the scholarship is now down to about 90 percent and projected to be at only 50 percent by 2014.

The HOPE scholarship undoubtedly helped keep Georgia students in Georgia in the past. But as the HOPE payout dwindles, many of Georgia’s college-bound seniors may be more willing to go to school out of state. That is exactly what one group is afraid of and hoping to avoid. “Save the HOPE” is a nonprofit organization of business and community leaders from across the state that is pushing for a return to full funding of the scholarship — something the group’s leaders believe will help keep students in Georgia and is therefore necessary for the state’s continued economic growth. They’ve started an online petition at urging lawmakers and others to “take action.”

We don’t know if they’re right, but keeping Georgia’s best and brightest in Georgia can’t be a bad thing. Considering signing the online petition and help make the case for saving HOPE.

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