State Board of Regents wants to redistribute $20 million from merit-based scholarships to low-income students

ST. GEORGE — The Utah System of Higher Education Board of Regents is shifting its focus from high-achieving students to low-income students entering college in order to fill a growing gap in college enrollment.

Starting in 2021, the Regents’ and New Century Scholarships may no longer be available to Utah high school students as the State Board of Regents works to dissolve the two merit-based scholarships and redistribute the $20 million in state funds to support needs-based programs.

Melanie Heath, the Utah System of Higher Education director of communications, told St. George News the Board of Regents established a task force to assess how merit-based scholarships could better support students in their endeavors to attend a university.

The Board of Regents created the task force after years of assessing the programs and deciding that they do not efficiently use state funds or support students.

Heath said it takes about $1 million for the Utah System of Higher Education to administer the funds because transcripts are evaluated by hand to ensure each of the eligible students are taking the required classes and receiving the necessary letter grades.

“After doing some deep dives into those, we found that really 90% of students who receive the Regents’ Scholarship received some other type of merit financial aid on top of that,” she said. “They’re getting a lot of support from institutions and financial awards for their academic achievement in high school already.

The task force also asserted that earning an associate’s degree in high school is not as efficient or as beneficial for high school students as it was originally thought to be.

Not all of the college credits that students earn while attending high school translate to college courses that are offered, so students aren’t necessarily saving two years of their time in college as was previously estimated. The rigorous course work was also concerning as students are placed under immense amounts of pressure to maintain their grade point average while striving to achieve an associate’s degree before graduation.

The Utah System of Higher Education found that there is a growing gap in enrollment for under-represented student populations.

“As our state grows and diversifies in new and meaningful ways, those gaps only continue to grow,” Heath said. “We need to do something meaningful to look at the systems we have in place and ensure all Utahns have access to college.”

The Board has proposed allotting 30% of the $20 million directly to colleges with the purpose of creating a simpler merit-based program and shifting 70% of the remaining funds to the Utah Promise Scholarship. With these changes, the Board hopes more low-income students will attend higher education institutions, Heath said.

“It’s not doing away with all state merit-based aid,” she said. “It’s just setting up a scholarship that is much more simplified for students for merit-based aid and then prioritizing more dollars for the Utah Promise funding.”

Students who earn at least a 3.3 grade point average and score a minimum of 22 on the ACT are eligible to receive the Regents’ Scholarship, which receives about 4,000 applications each year. Students must also take a specific course curriculum above and beyond standard high school graduation requirements. The New Century Scholarship, on the other hand, receives about 400 and is awarded to students who complete their associate’s degree while in high school.

The New Century Scholarship provides students with $1,250 per semester, and students must renew each term. On the other hand, the Regents’ Scholarship is a one-time award of about $2,000 with alternative tiers that provide a one-time award of $300, or a renewable award that is subject to a student’s individual circumstances based on their expected family contribution and state and federal aid the student may be receiving.

The Regents’ Scholarship was adapted during the 2019 General Legislative Session when lawmakers passed HB 260, which created the Utah Promise Scholarship program. The Utah Promise Scholarship identifies a student’s need based on the family’s contribution and awarded federal aid.

The new merit-based program would be based simply on grade point average and ACT scores and does not require any additional courses to be eligible.

The state legislature will decide whether to end the scholarships in the next legislative session.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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