ANNAPOLIS -- The Schaefer administration will ask the General Assembly to abolish the state's largest college scholarship program and replace it with one that eventually would pump more than twice the current program's $11.6 million to needy students.
One key element would be an attempt to identify eligible students with college potential as early as the sixth, seventh or eighth grades and promise them financial assistance upon graduation from high school.
"Too many students don't even understand the possibility of college in their lives until it is too late, when they haven't got the grades or haven't taken the courses they need to get into college," said Jeffrey R. Welsh, a spokesman for the Maryland Higher Education Commission, which developed the plan. "We want to make it clear to them when they still have the options."
Students promised scholarships upon graduation would be required to sign a "drug-free" pledge, complete a college preparation curriculum in high school and seek admission to any public or private college in Maryland, he said.
"We promise them the money will be there if they meet the conditions," Mr. Welsh said.
Scholarships under the proposed "Free State Program" would be based almost entirely on a student's financial need. While the existing general scholarship program considers financial need, it also must spread the scholarships evenly by legislative district and must consider national test scores of recipients.
The effect would be that more scholarships would be awarded to needy students in Baltimore or the state's other poorest subdivisions, Mr. Welsh said.
Scholarships awarded under the program would be substantially larger than those granted under the current program. But because the program would be phased in over four years, most of the increased cost would be deferred until the budget year that begins July 1, 1995.
That year, the projected cost of the program would be $25 million. By contrast, the state spent $11.6 million on its general scholarship program in the budget year that ended June 30, 1990.
To make the new program work, existing pilot programs of early student intervention would have to be expanded to identify students who could be college material, but who may be unlikely to aim for a college education because they know they could never afford it, Mr. Welsh said.
The Maryland Higher Education Commission estimates that as many as 5,000 students from families below the federal poverty level (with adjusted gross incomes of about $10,000 a year) and another 8,800 from low- or middle-income families could be eligible for Free State grants in fiscal 1996.
Those students would be expected to make at least the minimum $700 contribution required by the federal government and to receive need-based federal scholarships known as Pell grants, in addition to their state scholarships.
In an example developed by the commission, a student attending a public four-year college would need approximately $7,000 a year for tuition, fees, room and board. Assuming a student from a family below the poverty level contributes $700 and receives a $2,300 Pell grant, the state would then chip in with the $4,000 balance.
Under the existing program, the same student would receive only $1,200 from the state.
The maximum grant to low- and middle-income students would be $3,000, an increase from the current maximum of $2,500.
The administration proposal also calls for consolidating several programs that aim scholarships toward specific occupations, such as nursing, occupational therapists or child-care providers, into one umbrella "manpower scholarship" program.
The change would give the commission more flexibility in awarding scholarships in the areas of greatest need, Mr. Welsh said.