May 3, 2012 by Sue Madison
LITTLE ROCK – About 8,000 graduating high school seniors will be eligible for the Academic Challenge Scholarship when they attend an Arkansas college or university next fall.
The Department of Higher Education has notified the seniors and several thousand have officially accepted the awards. The deadline for all financial aid packages is June 1 for students who plan to attend an Arkansas college or university in the fall semester of 2012 and the spring semester of 2013.
Last year about 31,100 students received Academic Challenge scholarships, which are funded from the state lottery. Students enrolled at a four-year university receive $4,500 a year if they maintain their eligibility and students at two-year colleges receive $2,250 a year. Those amounts have been lowered since the 2010 school year, when they were $5,000 and $2,500.
A decline in lottery sales is responsible for the drop off in scholarship amounts.
Students who got $5,000 and $2,500 in 2010 will continue to receive those amounts as long as they maintain their eligibility. Similarly, students who get $4,500 and $2,250 this year will continue to receive those amounts throughout their college career, as long as they keep up their grades.
According to a study presented to legislators, 41.6 percent of the students who got a lottery scholarship in 2010 failed to get them renewed in 2011. Among the requirements for maintaining eligibility are to earn 15 hours in the fall and 15 hours in the spring, to successfully complete 30 hours during the year, with a cumulative grade point average of at least 2.5.
The renewal requirements are slightly lower for first-time recipients. They have to enroll in 12 hours in their first fall semester and complete 27 hours in their first year.
In following years they must complete 30 hours. Whether or not they are first-time recipients, they must all maintain a 2.5 cumulative grade point average.
If students have fallen behind in the current school year, they can take summer courses to complete their requirements. A transcript of their summer courses must be turned in to the Higher Education Department by October 1, 2012.
Legislators voiced concerns that there are still high school students who are unaware of the availability of lottery scholarships. The Lottery Commission and the Department of Higher Education are fine tuning their marketing to better reach young people. The director of the Higher Education Department said that marketing emphasizes to young people the importance of knowing what grades they must maintain to keep the scholarships.
High school counselors are an important source of information about all types of financial aid.
In related news, the University of Arkansas will increase tuition at its four-year universities next year. The increases range from 3.21 percent to 5.28 percent at campuses in Fayetteville, Little Rock, Fort Smith, Pine Bluff and Monticello. Five two-year community colleges in the system will increase tuition by 1.94 percent to 3.67 percent.
In all, Arkansas has 22 two-year colleges and 11 four-year universities that are supported by tax dollars, as well as by tuition, fees, donations and licensing arrangements. The Higher Education Department distributes about $170 million a year in financial aid programs to help students afford the cost of higher education. Last year about $94 million of that came from lottery ticket sales.
If you have any questions or comments about legislative issues, please call me at 479-442-2997.