A recommendation to make more scholarship funds available to poor and minority Maryland students was being presented to a committee of the Maryland Higher Education Commission today.
The "Free State" plan would realign the method of distributing scholarship money to students based on income and college preparatory courses taken in high school. The plan will cost $24 million to implement over a five-year period if approved by the commission, said state Secretary of Higher Education Shaila Aery.
Realignment of the state scholarship program has been under study by the commission since last June and the new strategies for making scholarships available to lower-income state residents and part-time students have been the topic of public hearings this past year.
"We have spent hours, at least 50 hours, hearing public testimony about the way to look at these programs," Aery said. "The whole thing we talked about was service and savings. We were trying to figure out what the future needs of the state are."
The plan does not address what to do about the legislative scholarship program, a distribution of scholarships by state senators and delegates to constituents that has been criticized because legislators have given awards based on political support and not on need.
The legislative scholarship program is estimated to cost $8 million in 1996 -- the final year of the Free State phase-in -- and Aery said it would be up to the General Assembly to decide the future of the scholarships if no additional state money is available to implement the new plan.
Historically, legislators have resisted attempts to eliminate the scholarships they grant.
The Finance Policy Committee is to review the proposal next month and forward it to the full commission for a vote Oct. 31 at the New Community College of Baltimore.
The Free State proposal would:
* Establish financial aid for part-time students that make up 53 percent of the state's student population. This would cost $1 million and be implemented in fiscal 1993.
* Start a zero coupon college savings bond that would be tax free for students who attend colleges in Maryland. The program would be limited to state residents.
Bills proposing the same concept and introduced in recent sessions of the General Assembly have been defeated.
* Allow loan forgiveness of up to $1,000 a year for math and science students who choose to work in their fields in Maryland.
* Provide another loan forgiveness for a so-called Public Service Partnership that would reimburse $1,000 of tuition for up to 100 students who do volunteer work in low-income or environmentally damaged parts of the state.