by Max Brantley
No decision yet, but words were uttered at the Capitol today about trimming back the amount of lottery scholarships. Maybe by $500 per year.
More demand from qualifying students may mean less money per scholarship. Unless we can figure out ways to separate more people from more money at the lottery ticket windows.
Love the lottery, if you must. Love the scholarship money — certainly if you're a beneficiary. Just don't kid yourself about this being a bonanza for universities.
There was a telling figure in the paper today in the discussion of tying Arkansas college funding to performance — such as graduation rates. In the 10 years ending 2008-09, the amount of money provided by the state toward a full-time student's education dropped from 62 percent to 49 percent of the cost. That share will continue to drop, despite the constitutional requirement that lottery money not reduce the state's spending on colleges. In raw dollars, if spending is $1 more from one year to the next, the Constitution is satisfied. But students will still get farther and farther behind as increasing costs and tuition and fees outstrip everything else, including a lottery scholarship award that seems likely to similarly decline in value over time. $5,000 (or less) next year won't be worth nearly as much in 2020.
Perhaps Ernie P. has a solution. That's why we're paying him the big bucks, right?
PS — The hateful Family Council strikes with an I-told-you-so news release about the talk of reduction in scholarship assistance. They oppose the lottery on religious grounnds and good for them if that's their thing. But it is disingenuous by a lot to suggest cutting lottery pay would have much impact on scholarship amounts. The reason only 22 percent is paid out in winnings is that the most significant portion of the rest is paid in winnings to keep the suckers coming back.
PPS — Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, driving force behind the lottery's creation, notes that good factors could be contributing to the situation, specifically more people receiving scholarships and more heading to more expensive four-year colleges. His statement:
Lieutenant Governor Halter’s position has always been to provide maximum possible scholarship awards to maximum numbers of Arkansas students with fiscal responsibility. The Scholarship Lottery has produced more scholarship dollars than we projected. This is good news. More scholarships were awarded this year than the Arkansas Department of Higher Education projected. This is more good news. A greater portion of lottery scholarship recipients are going to 4-year institutions than the Arkansas Department of Higher Education projected. This is still more good news. The Scholarship Lottery is only 15 months old and the first scholarships are only now being utilized. All relevant data needs to be made public in evaluating future scholarship amounts because this issue is of vital financial interest to tens of thousands of Arkansas families and merits a thorough public discussion.