Need-based aid no disadvantage

EDUCATION BEAT

Funding: Students given such scholarships perform on par with their peers, a new study shows.

March 07, 2004|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

MANY PEOPLE assume that college students who receive scholarships based on financial need don't perform well.

But they do as well in college as -- or better than -- students who receive no aid, according to a study by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

The study, released last week, shows the retention and graduation rates of community college students with need-based scholarships exceed those of students with no aid. And students at four-year public schools with awards based on need are just as likely as students without aid to graduate within five years.

"It is absolutely clear that an investment in programs to benefit low- and moderate-income students is effective," said Calvin W. Burnett, the commission's acting secretary.

The timing of the study couldn't be more politically propitious. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has proposed shifting more state aid money to need-based scholarships, and he would add $15.9 million in state funding for such programs in his 2005 budget.

The commission study does not address a key question: How do the retention and graduation rates of need-based scholarship recipients compare with those of students with aid based on academic merit?

The answer to that question may not be what the governor wants to hear.

Catholic school to open in Southwest Baltimore

It's been three decades since all three of the Catholic schools in Southwest Baltimore closed their doors, leaving a vacuum from downtown to Bon Secours Hospital.

That's about to change. A new middle school for girls is scheduled to open this fall at Hollins and Poppleton streets in a building owned by the Sisters of Mercy.

Many months in the planning, the Sisters Academy of Baltimore is sponsored by four Catholic orders, the Mercy Sisters, School Sisters of Notre Dame, Sisters of Bon Secours and Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

It's modeled after the St. Ignatius Loyola Academy for middle-school boys on Calvert Street. "As of March 1, we're out looking for our first class of about 20 fifth-graders. Then we'll add a class a year," said Sister Delia Dowling, a former College of Notre Dame professor and official who will be the new school's president.

The Sisters Academy will be the newest member of a Baltimore-based national association known as the Nativity Educational Centers Network, named for the first such school established in New York City in 1971. Designed for low-income urban families who can't afford private education, the "Nativity Schools" have small classes and extended-day class schedules. Students are expected to attend summer school, and breakfast and lunch are included. Students wear uniforms.

"We charge a small fee to each family, basically what they can afford so that they have an investment. But there's no tuition," said Dowling. "We're looking for people who are willing to sponsor these children."

Why a middle school? "We expect these girls will mostly come from public elementary schools in Southwest Baltimore, though we're not limiting ourselves to that area," said Dowling. "That's a crucial age for kids. Middle school is a time when life can seem difficult and when girls are the most impressionable."

And why girls? "Any community's quality of life is heavily determined by the educational level of its women," said Sister Suzanne Hall, associate director of the new school. "We hope to give these girls a good, quality start as they approach womanhood in one of the city's most distressed areas."

Hall said "The Corner," a drug- and crime-infested intersection made famous by Baltimore writers David Simon and Edward Burns, "is right smack in the middle of the 10 census tracts the Sisters school will be primarily serving."

High-schoolers compete in VFW essay contest

This evening in Washington, a patriotic American teen-ager will pick up a cool $25,000 college scholarship for winning the Veterans of Foreign Wars' Voice of Democracy contest. In all, the VFW will distribute $143,500 in scholarships tonight to high school students from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and three territories.

Though I was a judge, I don't know who's going to win. It's a contest of "audio essays," 3- to 5-minute taped declamations on a patriotic topic. The judging, however, is "blind." Entries are numbered, and contestants can't identify hometowns, states or schools. So I couldn't cheat for the Maryland winner, Preston S. Copeland of Baltimore.

Patriotism lives. Several of the essays are real gems, thoughtful statements from thoughtful kids on what it means to be an American in a troubled time.

There were about 70,000 entries nationally this year, down from about 86,000 when I last judged the contest two years ago. VFW officials attributed the decline to the testing required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. With all that testing, high schools have precious little time to engage in patriotic contests.

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