The head of the Higher Ed Dept. joins Gov. Mike Beebe in saying money from the new state lottery should go into existing college scholarship programs.
I'm not so sure.
A spokesman for Beebe told me yesterday that the governor understands, contrary to a quote in story linked above, that the existing scholarship program doesn't work well. Proof: Huge surplus of scholarship money and the worst college completion rate in the country. (Maybe West Virginia is worse.)
But tinkering with this diffuse array of programs doesn't seem to me to be as easily a marketable approach as a new pool of money, well publicized, that goes to any Arkansas high school graduate with a 2.5 GPA in a core curriculum and who achieves sufficient advancement toward a degree. You could add provisions for older students.
I'm also concerned about the clear signal from the governor that he is enamored with the Walton model of discriminating against many students in spending the money. That is, he wants to provide special money for science, technology and math students. (House Speaker Robbie Wills, who'd said similar to me earlier, now says he's rethinking the idea of targeting STEM students with this money.)
This targeting is just wrong. It's wrong to devalue those that choose poetry and who face the same tuition a biology major does. It's wrong to devalue the general benefit of a college education, including for a young poet who might be so excited by an elective in technology that he changes course after arriving. The wealthiest member of my college fraternity got rich as a high finance guru, though he got a Ph.D. in philosophy.
Apart from the discrimination among different disciplines, this sounds like yet another categorical program to add to the welter of programs that have already proved hard for students to penetrate. A rising college tide will lift all boats -- science and technology included.
Let's make college affordable with equal grants to anyone who wants to go. Yes, even those from well-off families. Don't consider race, sex, religion, geography, course of study, wealth, etc. Let's make it along the highly successful Social Security model. If you're an Arkansas student who has played by simple rules, you get the money. And let's link this pool of money directly to the lottery. Let's not subsume it in existing programs, where the temptation to slacken overall college funding efforts would be great and, in action, easy to obscure. Let's see, in short, if the lottery really produces the touted benefits. That includes an easy way to see how the money is spent.