LOGAN — The Utah State Board of Regents on Friday approved new requirements to the Regents' Scholarship that still encourage high schoolers to take rigorous coursework but give colleges more flexibility with scholarship funds to help low-income students.
One significant change is that all scholarship applicants must apply for federal financial aid, a revision that state higher education officials say will increase the numbers of students who receive grants and other forms of financial aid.
However, there will be no means test for the Regents' Scholarship, and every student who qualifies will receive an award. An applicant does not have to qualify for federal financial aid to receive the scholarship. The dollar amount the award will depend on the appropriation by the Utah Legislature and numbers of qualifying students.
"This is still an achievement-based scholarship, but it does provide institutions some flexibility to help students who have a financial gap in being able to go to college," said Commissioner of Higher Education David Buhler, addressing the regents during a meeting at Utah State University.
Changes to the Regents’ Scholarship will take effect for the class of 2019, now high school juniors.
Changes to the scholarship were driven in part by the state higher education system’s goal of improving college affordability and access.
A review of the scholarship program conducted by the Office of the Utah Commissioner of Higher Education in January found that 91 percent of Regents' Scholarship recipients received other institutional scholarships.
“In many cases, students received significantly more than their cost of tuition and fees. This is partially due to the scholarship award being given to recipients separately from other state and federal scholarships and aid to students,” according to board documents.
In those cases, unused Regents' Scholarship funds could be used to help meet the college costs of other students.
According to current requirements, Regents' Scholarship recipients need at least a 3.5 grade-point average and a 26 composite score on the ACT exam. Applicants are also required to take rigorous high school coursework that research shows will help them succeed in college, such as a fourth year of mathematics and two years of studying a foreign language.
Buhler said he hopes adding the requirement that scholarship applicants complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FASFA, results in more eligible students receiving federal aid for college, assistance that does not have to be repaid.
For three years running, Utah has had the highest percentage of high school graduates who didn’t complete the federal financial aid application, 55 percent. As a consequence, graduating seniors missed out on an estimated $36 million in Pell Grant aid, according to analysis by NerdWallet.
Most Utah universities and colleges, both private and public, require completion of the federal application to receive any aid, but it had not been a requirement for application for the Regents' Scholarship.
Beginning with the class of 2019, requirements for the scholarship will include:
• Earning a 3.3 high school GPA.
• Earning a composite score of at least 22 on the ACT.
• Enrolling in 15 college credits fall semester after high school graduation.2 comments on this story
• Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
• Taking the required course of study in high school.
“Making these changes allows us to continue to reward students who have worked hard in high school to get ready for college, while also giving institutions the flexibility to consider a student’s gap in their ability to afford college,” Buhler said.
“These changes will better serve our state by helping more students be prepared for and access higher education, in line with the strategic goals of the board of regents.”