Scholarship's rules are an exact science

Traditional fields not part of program

June 10, 1999|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

When is biology not considered a science? When you're looking for $3,000 from the state of Maryland to help out with college tuition.

That's what William F. Clark found out when his daughter Anne applied for help under the Maryland Science and Technology Scholarship Program, which began awarding money this year to state students majoring in those fields at schools in the state.

Education officials budgeted for 2,000 scholarships, and 700 applicants were approved for the program, which, despite its name, does not cover most traditional science majors.

Anne Clark graduated in the top 5 percent of her class at Bel Air High School, easily meeting the B average requirement of the scholarship program, and planned to major in biology at the Johns Hopkins University.

William Clark heard about the program and thought his daughter was a shoo-in for a scholarship. But, after repeated calls to the Maryland Higher Education Commission and an unsuccessful visit to its Web site, he discovered that biology isn't covered by the program. Neither are chemistry or physics. The program gives money only to students majoring in specific engineering and computer fields.

"If biology is not a science, then what is?" asked Clark. "They have all this money sitting there that they are not awarding, I don't understand why they don't extend the program. No wonder people are going out of state for college."

Patricia S. Florestano, the state higher education secretary, said the program arrived at the MHEC, which administers it, with the name attached but was always intended to target areas in which the state needs trained employees.

"We did an extensive survey in determining these areas and found that there was no shortage in many scientific areas, such as the biological sciences," Florestano said.

She said it is possible that having "science and technology" in the name of the program caused confusion but that she does not think it is widespread.

"If that had been the case, we would have had more applications that we had to turn down," she said. There were 1,500 applicants, and state officials said most were rejected for lack of a B average.

Martha O'Connell, admissions director at Western Maryland College, said many applicants to that school assumed they were eligible for the program, only to learn otherwise.

"It definitely caused confusion," O'Connell said. "We got an awful lot of phone calls about it. People were disappointed to find out it did not cover many majors."

No course of study offered at WMC is approved for the program. The school in Westminster offers a minor in computer science and majors in traditional sciences: biology, chemistry, physics and biochemistry.

The majors approved for the program are applied sciences, not biology, but biomedical engineering at Hopkins and biological resources engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park; not chemistry, but chemical engineering at those two schools and a variety of computer and engineering majors at 19 schools in the state.

The scholarships came out of an attempt by the administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening to get a HOPE-type scholarship program in Maryland, similar to one pioneered in Georgia that pays full tuition at state public schools for any high school graduate with a B average who maintains that average in college.

That was rejected by the General Assembly in 1997, and the Science and Technology program, which is more closely tied to economic development and business needs, was passed the next year.

It pays $3,000 for any four-year state school -- a large percentage of tuition at public colleges but a small dent in a typical $20,000 bill at a private school -- with a requirement that the student work in the state for one year for every year the scholarship was received. Community college students with approved majors are eligible for $1,000 grants.

"What needs to be emphasized is that the governor wants this program to apply to all majors, in the sciences and all other fields," said Michael Morrill of Glendening's office.

Morrill said this year's session of the General Assembly expanded the program to include students planning to be teachers starting next year and has authorized expanding it to cover all students in the future.

"What I would say to people who are disappointed in this program is that it will eventually cover every major," Morrill said.

For now, Western Maryland's O'Connell agreed with Clark that the state should consider expanding the current program.

"I understand that the state wants to target areas that businesses want, but what employers tell us is that they like liberal arts graduates who can write and express themselves, that they can teach them the technical stuff," O'Connell said. "I wish they would take that into account."

Pub Date: 6/10/99

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