Supporters of a proposed Board of Regents scholarship hope a $1,000 incentive might get more junior high school students thinking about going to college.
The scholarship is being proposed to the Legislature this year as another way to meld public school and higher education and get families thinking about post-secondary education sooner rather than later.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, is supporting the soon-to-be bill and says it "brings together the best of what other states are doing."
Hillyard, who has supported scholarship initiatives during past sessions, said the Regents' Scholarship would not only tie the two systems together for a more seamless education system in Utah, but would help public education by giving students a reward as well as involve entire families in the process of saving money for college.
"This, in our emphasis on improving the quality of higher education and public education, is really the right way to go, and I think it will really have a positive impact," Hillyard said.
The gist of the Regents' Scholarship is that eighth-graders throughout the state would be presented a sort of "promissory note" for a $1,000 scholarship if they commit to taking a more rigorous course of study through graduation. The parameters include an extra year each of English, math, social studies/science and two years of any foreign language. The credits would be in addition to the state's core curriculum high school graduation requirements.
The scholarship parallels the Utah Scholars program, which encourages students to take the more rigorous course of study, and which began as part of the State Scholars Initiative with a $300,000 grant from the federal government in 2006. The new scholarship would give participating eighth-graders even more of a reason to work harder in school, said Utah's Commissioner for Higher Education Rich Kendell.
"We do not want money to stand in the way of any child having a college education," he said. "We want to give everybody a pathway." The reward for completing the rigorous course work would come in addition to any sort of savings plan already in place, other scholarships, low-interest loans and need-based aid programs the student qualifies for, reducing the financial barriers preventing people from moving on in school, Kendell said.
The actual award, if students complete the program with a 3.0 GPA and enroll in any public college or university in the Utah System of Higher Education within a year of graduating high school, would total $1,350, including the interest.
"It will not pay for their entire college, but it might buy them a full semester, it might come in handy at a point in their lives when they badly need an extra $1,000 or $1,400 to get them to graduation," Kendell said.
Roughly 7,000 students are expected to participate in the first year, requiring a $7 million appropriation from the Legislature. However, Hillyard said he'll be seeking "more than it would take to get it off the ground."
"What if more people participate over time? I would say 'Hurray,"' Kendell said. "From our perspective, when you get a person to go to college there's a much greater chance that they will become a self-sustaining adult, meaning that they will get a job, have access to health care, pay into a pension and pay taxes."
Last year, Hillyard proposed a $20 million endowment for student scholarships, which the Legislature did not pass. Kendell said the idea is more developed this year and they will also hit up businesses for help with fund-raising."We don't want finance to be a problem or a barrier to any person in Utah who wants to go to college and better their lives and better their skills," he said.