Spreading the scholarship wealth New student-aid plan awaits Schaefer's OK.

April 08, 1991|By Marina Sarris and Melody Simmons | Marina Sarris and Melody Simmons,Evening Sun Staff

More students from low- and moderate-income Maryland families will be able to afford a college education, under a revamped state scholarship program passed in the General Assembly today.

The plan, proposed by the Schaefer administration, will restructure the current state scholarship program over four years and increase the amount of grant money available to thousands of Marylanders who want a college degree.

State higher education officials are hailing the new program of Educational Excellence Awards, which will be in place July 1995, as a national model. They say it will be a machine of opportunity for students who come from lower-income households, where a college education is rare.

"It's marvelous, the frosting on the cake for students," said Vera Allen at Morgan State University. Allen is director of a program that provides college preparation to high schoolers.

"In Baltimore City, we're dealing with economic disadvantages of just not being able to go to college no matter how bright the student is," Allen said.

The House of Delegates gave final approval today to an amended version of the bill, which already had passed in the Senate. The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

The new scheme will replace the current general state scholarship program.

The $11.6 million now offered for such grants is expected to double by July 1995, when the state begins distributing the excellence awards.

Students will be identified as potential scholarship recipients in the eighth grade, when they will be placed into a precollege curriculum and tutored heavily in math and science.

The state will provide up to $3,000 a year toward the college costs of eligible Marylanders from low- and moderate-income families. Scholarship recipients will have to carry a 2.0 -- or a C -- grade point average in college for their grants to be renewed.

In determining the awards, officials will consider the cost-of-living figures from each county, said state Higher Education Secretary Shaila Aery. For example, the high price of living in Montgomery County will be compared with the relatively low cost in Washington County.

Under one facet of the Educational Excellence Awards, the Guaranteed Access Grant program, the very neediest students can receive almost full scholarships, up to the annual expenses of a full-time resident undergraduate at the University of Maryland College Park.

To be eligible, those students will have to have a 2.5 grade point rTC average in high school and a 2.0 grade point average after their first year of college. Students whose grades fell below that could file appeals. Recipients must be under age 22.

All scholarship winners will have to sign a pledge saying they will remain free of illegal drugs.

Scholarships will be awarded based on each student's financial need. While the existing general scholarship program considers financial need, it must spread the scholarships evenly by legislative district and must also consider national test scores of recipients.

The excellence awards will not eliminate the state's legislative scholarship program that allows legislators to dispense scholarships in their districts. However, any legislative scholarship funds not awarded at the end of a year will be transferred to the excellence fund.

"This will make Maryland scholarships a fair and more equitable system and, for the first time, need-based," Aery said.

The legislation also will create a new financial aid program aimed at Marylanders who earn undergraduate degrees in math or science, two academic fields that the state hopes to promote. Beginning July 1, 1992, those students can receive help repaying their college loans if they meet certain employment and other requirements.

Scholarships also will be available to part-time students beginning July 1992.

Details of the excellence program have generated enthusiasm from members of the higher education community, such as Vera Allen, the statewide director of the Academic Champions of Excellence program.

The ACE program offers mentoring and college preparation to students at 18 high schools in Baltimore and Prince George's County. The availability of guaranteed college scholarships gives the program added credibility, Allen said.

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