SALT LAKE CITY — Utah college students who have received Regents' and New Century scholarships may soon be required to take a heavier class schedule and maintain a higher GPA in order to continue receiving aid.

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, introduced SB101 this week, proposing that college students be required to enroll in 15 credits and keep up a 3.33 GPA in order to qualify. The bill passed a hearing by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday, and represents an increase from the previous requirements of 12 credits and a 3.0 GPA.  

Stevenson, who serves on the Senate Education Committee, says he isn’t worried about the increased strain on students’ time. He says it’s more likely to help than hurt the dropout rate.

“That shouldn’t be an issue. Our goal is to increase certificates and degrees,” Stevenson said. “We’re going to get these guys through school without them lollygagging.”

Stevenson’s colleague from the House, Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, agreed with the bill. He says the new requirements are easy for most top students.

“Anything we can do within reason to enhance the rigor of our college students is a good thing,” Handy said. “I think this is a reasonable expectation.”

Ron Mortensen of Citizens for Tax Fairness opposed SB100 Wednesday because of tax and immigration issues that he believes exist in the bill. He told the committee the measure allows for illegal immigrants to take advantage of taxpayer-funded scholarships.

“I would urge you to either amend this bill … or to kill it outright,” Mortensen said. “Taxpayers of Utah shouldn’t be asked to run the risk of funding school for individuals unlawfully in the United States at a time that we are struggling to find the funds to cover scholarships for Utah citizens.”

But Stevenson says barring undocumented residents from receiving the scholarship would affect teenagers who likely entered the United States as children. Recipients of the two scholarships are required to have spent four years attending high school in Utah.

“There’s folks that are claiming this bill is a method of educating illegal foreigners,” Stevenson said. “This has been a pretty lackluster session, there’s no excitement — so they’re looking for any issue they can hang onto.”

During the 2011-12 school year, 1,348 students received a Regents’ Scholarship and 347 received a New Century Scholarship. They are eligible to receive aid through the end of their sophomore year, given they meet the academic requirements. Stevenson’s bill doesn’t propose a change in scholarship funding or the number of recipients.

“There are no fiscal effects,” Stevenson said. “It just raises the bar a little bit.”

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Stevenson said he’s still consulting with the Utah System of Higher Education about a few housekeeping decisions, including whether to adjust the bill differently for the two types of scholarships and whether to weigh International Baccalaureate courses the same as AP courses when selecting students.  

“We’re quite supportive of the bill,” said Pam Silberman, the director of communications for the Utah System of Higher Education. “The great bulk of its changes are simply for ease of administration and to let students know what they’re signing up for.”


Twitter: @benlockhart89