From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Are the lottery scholarship requirements too low?

In Education, Lottery on 27 February 2009 at 4:52 pm

Among the numerous figures and statistics discussed at Wednesday’s lottery-scholarship meeting, one stood out because it is actual rather than speculative: of all students who have an Academic Challenge Scholarship, which requires recipients to maintain a 2.75 GPA, only 61 percent graduate college. Granted, that’s better than the forty-odd percent of non-scholarship students who graduate. But I would submit that it’s still an abysmal number. (According the Department of Higher Education Director Jim Purcell, Academic Challenge students are tracked after they enter their freshman year.)

Thus the great paradox of the lottery scholarships: They should be as inclusive as possible, but they serve little purpose if recipients fail to graduate.

Will the state be throwing 40 percent of the lottery money away? Should it not award higher grants to students who show greater potential to graduate? Under the current formula, recipients are required to have a GPA, 2.5, that is just on the threshold between a C+ and a B-. Should we not be demanding more than mediocrity from our students?

If only it were so easy to correct the problem by demanding a better GPA. To do so would undoubtedly leave out poor and minority students, whose meager resources make it difficult to achieve at the same level as the well-to-do.

What changes, then, could be made to the bill to optimize the use of state dollars?

One has to do with income cutoffs, anathema to this point: Take income into account, but don’t create an upper limit. Instead, establish a GPA scale pegged to wealth. If a student’s family is in the top 10 percent of earners, for example, then the student would have to maintain a 3.0 GPA to get a scholarship. The 2.5 threshold could continue to apply to students from poorer families. Exceptions could be made for those with learning and developmental disabilities. The numbers could be changed, of course, but the idea is to weed out underachievers among the group of students in a better economic position to succeed.

A second suggestion is political poison and would never be adopted, but I have to throw it out there anyway: give money to go to college out of state on the condition that recipients return for a certain period of employment after graduation. When the graduation rate at Arkansas universities is 61 percent even among the best high-school performers, it suggests to me that those universities are not doing what they should be doing. You could also take a hard look at improving education standards at Arkansas universities, but that’s another issue entirely.

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