Georgia's Hope Scholarship Program, which mandates that any student maintaining a "B" average or better gets money to attend a state university, is considered by many to be a real success.

More kids, both black and white, are college-bound, and other states are working to copy the 10-year-old program.

But not everyone is singing its praises. Critics of the program say that because of the increased competition for available freshmen slots, fewer blacks are being accepted into the state's top universities compared to days when race, not grades played a dominant role in the decision process.

Opponents add that the program benefits applicants who are middle-class and college-bound to begin with.

"One of the concerns is that perhaps it gives people from higher-income, more highly educated families a greater opportunity for success to be rewarded. And generally, those households are more likely to be white than black," said David B. Mustard of the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia.

But supporters of the program say the playing field couldn't be more level than it is now.

"This is not about income, it's not about the parents' income, it's about the student's academic achievement, and that's our purpose," said Glenn Newsome, executive director of the Georgia Student Finance Commission.

"I think our goal throughout the country is to have the very best-educated population we can," Newsome added, "and I think by giving an incentive to make good grades, there's a reward, that works."

Sara Fischer, a senior at the University of Georgia, also attested to the program's fairness.

"If you get good enough grades it's really just an equal opportunity thing," she said. "It's not really geared towards one group over another."

But the best measure of the program's success, supporters say, is the increase in academic excellence.

"In high school, I just stayed focused. Always did what I needed to do as far as homework-wise and that gave me a pretty good GPA. I was awarded the Hope Scholarship," University of Georgia senior Duran Garner said.

More than a dozen states already have merit-based scholarship programs and more states are planning to follow.