More than 300 applications have been received at the Utah System of Higher Education offices from students vying for hundreds of $1,000 scholarships.
"It's generating a lot of interest," said Dave Doty, assistant commissioner of higher education and Utah Scholars program director. The Board of Regents' Scholarship vows to give exemplary high school graduates a boost into any Utah college or university.
Two years ago, talks began about providing a monetary incentive for students who pursue and complete a more rigorous course of study through high school, preparing them for higher education. Earlier this year, lawmakers designated one-time funding for $500,000 and $400,000 in ongoing money to the Regents' Scholarship, to be dispersed to high school graduates who finish the required courses with a B average.
Regents originally asked the Legislature for $7 million to fund the program in its entirety.
The "generous but limited funding" provided by the Legislature will allow the Regents to give scholarships to as many qualified students as they can this year after absorbing all of the administrative costs themselves.
Doty said that only 1 percent of Utah's 30,000 graduating high school seniors qualify for the scholarship this year.
The scholarship requires students to complete four years of English, four years of math, with one class beyond Algebra 2, 3 1/2 years of social studies, three years of science, including biology, chemistry and physics, and two years of a foreign language. The curriculum has proved to be the most likely precursor to success in college, Doty said, adding that 18 states in the country have made such a regimen mandatory in high school. The Regents' Scholarship, which piggy-backs the Utah Scholars core course of study, remains a voluntary option for Utah students.
"The single-biggest predictor of success in college is demanding course work in high school," said regent James S. Jardine.
Even at the University of Utah, a research institution and Utah's largest university, Vice President David Pershing said, some admitted students fall short of the fine arts requirement, not having any experience in foreign language courses.
"We've got a lot of work to do, but this is a great start," he said. The hope is that the new scholarship will motivate more students into college, where enrollments across the state have run flat.
Regents will begin reviewing the applications next week, evaluating them on a case-by-case basis to determine if qualifications were met. Already hundreds of calls have come in regarding questions about the standards set for the award. Doty said the scholarship is brand new, and although it will undoubtedly be enhanced to incorporate more students, the standards are not likely to be downgraded.
"We don't want to undercut the integrity of the system," he said. "There may be expansions, but there are no expected contractions." A consideration of some career and technical education courses, decided to be "rigorous," may be made in the coming year. Students receiving a Regents' Scholarship are also eligible for an Exemplary Academic Achievement award, which provides a 75 percent tuition waiver for up to two years at any accredited Utah institution. First-generation students who complete the program are also eligible for Academic Competitiveness grants, which provide up to $750 in the first year of college and $1,300 for the second year.The deadline to be considered for this year's allocation of Regents' Scholarships has passed, as applications were to be postmarked by Friday. More information for future award considerations can be found online at utahscholars.org.