by Max Brantley
I'd just like to say amen to a comment Sen. Robert Thompson of Paragould made yesterday at the meeting of a committee discussing Higher Education Department spending plans for existing college scholarship surpluses and the coming lottery money.
The department, he said, has suggested prioritizing candidates into three groups: Students nearing completion of their degrees, students waiting to enter college and students who did not qualify for the Academic Challenge scholarship right out of high school.
Sen. Robert Thompson, D-Paragould, spoke against prioritizing scholarships based on the type of degree students are seeking, noting that a legislative panel rejected that suggestion during the session.
“I’ve a problem with the Department of Higher Education saying some degrees are more equal than others and some are worthy of scholarship moneys where other degrees are not,” Thompson said.
State scholarships are about putting more kids in college, not about favoring kids willing to enter whatever sector the powers-that-be deem more valuable (or more useful to their particular sector). Let the free market work.
UPDATE: A Higher Ed spokesman clarifies that a priority system that took shortages into account would 1) only apply to scholarship money set aside for "adult learners" or so-called non-traditional students and 2) would be used only if there wasn't enough money in the amount set aside to meet requests from all non-traditional applicants. I think older people ought to be encouraged to be poets, too, but this certainly narrows the impact as I originally read it.
UPDATE II: Sen. Thompson provides some more clarity on the subject.
If DHE told you that their proposal to prioritize the scholarships based on so-called critical-needs degrees applies only to non-traditional, delayed-returning students (older adults), that's not exactly correct. The proposed rules they circulated at the meeting yesterday also included such prioritization for scholarships awarded to the "near completers." These are those traditional students who are seniors in college when the scholarships are funded.
There is $8 million set aside for "delayed returners" and "near-completers." $4 million will go for near-completers, under DHE's proposal, and they would be prioritized based on closeness to completion (how many hours until graduation), financial need, GPA, and the "critical needs" component. I don't have a problem with the first three, but the last one seems to me to favor those students who have chosen certain courses of study over others. In other words a 21-year-old engineering major might get his last year of college paid for, while a 21-year-old music major would not.
It's not a huge deal, but the critical-needs issue jumped off the page at me when it was presented to the committee yesterday. It seems particularly unfair given that these students have chosen their areas of study before the scholarship program was created, and weren't aware that some areas of study might be favored over others.