Distinguished Scholars vs. illegal immigrants? Here's the real outrage

May 11, 2011

The juxtaposition on the front page of Wednesday’s Sun was striking to many readers: An article on the state’s decision to allow illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition at Maryland community colleges (and eventually four-year universities) ran next to another about Maryland students losing merit scholarships because of budget cuts. To many people, this looks like a case of the state taking money from the deserving and giving it to the undeserving.

But if we are to blame the General Assembly for the end of the Distinguished Scholars program, it should not be for its vote to let students who attended Maryland high schools and whose parents pay Maryland income taxes get a discount on tuition. It should be for lawmakers’ insistence on protecting the scholarships its own members dole out to whomever they want for whatever reason they want, a program that costs far more than the Distinguished Scholars program and illegal immigrant tuition bill combined.

Continuing the Distinguished Scholars program, which provides $3,000 a year for high-achieving Maryland high school students who attend Maryland colleges and universities, would have cost the state just over $1 million this year. No one knows for certain how much the illegal immigrant tuition break will cost; legislative analysts pegged it at $3.5 million by 2016.

But the state will spend $11,682,000 this year on scholarships for senators and delegates to give to whomever they want – regardless of merit. That has sometimes meant the money wound up helping the relatives of lawmakers or campaign contributors. If we are to have an argument about making sure state higher education funds go to those who are most deserving, that is where the conversation should start.

--Andrew A. Green

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