UT Testifies on HOPE Scholarship Changes for ROTC Cadets

Category: State Issues

Wednesday, the House Education Instruction and Program Subcommittee passed a bill that could change the way HOPE scholarship hours are calculated for ROTC students in Tennessee. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge), would address problems in the HOPE hours calculation that cause some STEM-major ROTC cadets to lose eligibility for the state-sponsored scholarship in their third year of study.

The issue arose in 2013 when the Army Cadet Command placed three Tennessee ROTC programs on the “cut list” because they were not recruiting enough STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors. The problem, however, could be traced in part to an issue with the state’s HOPE lottery scholarship program.

Currently, students lose HOPE eligibility after attempting 120 credit hours at a Tennessee postsecondary institution, but that causes issues for cadets enrolled in a STEM program such as engineering. Curriculum and graduation paths for students in that major are highly fixed and unchangeable. Therefore, those cadets cannot fold the hours to earn their commission through the ROTC program into their major or a minor, and some must take up to 140-150 hours to earn both their degree and commission. These students currently lose their HOPE money after 120 hours, leaving the student to make up the difference to complete their program of study.

Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) addressed the fact that ROTC cadets are often given a stipend as part of their participation in the program, but those funds are changing and not as plentiful as they once were.

Lou Hanemann, Associate Director for Higher Education Policy and Analysis, testified for the University of Tennessee, saying, “There is a stipend scholarship that is available for most ROTC students, but the reason those institutions were put on the cut list was funding concerns. The funding for those scholarships has begun to shift.”

The bill, fully supported by the University of Tennessee, would create an hours exemption for ROTC classes only.  It passed on a unanimous voice vote and will next be heard in the full House Education Instruction and Programs committee.  A companion bill in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville), will be heard in the Senate Education Committee.  We will post any updates on the bill’s movement as they become available.

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