Distinguished Scholars program deserved to be cut

May 12, 2011

On a personal level, the abrupt demise of the Maryland Distinguished Scholar program is understandably distressing to high school senior Lindsay Michocki ("Seniors stunned by Md. scholarship cuts," May 11). On a policy level, however, the program was a prime example of a well intentioned government effort but one wholly lacking empirical evidence of its efficacy.

Created by the legislature more than a quarter century ago for the purpose of rewarding Maryland's brightest students for attending college in state, the program was predicated on the unproven assumption that it is bad public policy for Maryland students to attend the nation's finest universities, for fear that they would never return home. Further, the $3,000 annual grants were not inflation indexed, even as the cost of attending college skyrocketed, making the grants ever less an incentive to stay home. Worse yet, there has never been a study done to demonstrate that the grants were achieving their desired effect.

The lack of a $3,000 grant will not keep Ms. Michocki from attending college this fall. She and all the other Distinguished Scholars will attend college, I am certain, but that is not the case for Maryland's poorest students, for whom financial aid makes all the difference in college attendance. While some may bemoan that the Distinguished Scholars program fell to the budget ax, the greater regret, from a public policy perspective, is that the state's scholarship program of need-based aid, which has never been adequate to meet the need, has been flat-funded for the past three years.

One part of the Distinguished Scholars program that will be missed, appropriately I believe, is the recognition of students who excel in the arts. While there are multiple programs to identify and recognize academically accomplished students, such as National Merit Awards, AP credits, standardized tests, etc., there are too few comparable ways for accomplished students in the arts to be measured and recognized.

Kevin M. O'Keefe, Baltimore

The writer is a former chairman of the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

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