Monday, April 20, 2009

Ace the AIMS? Forget the Free Ride

Excelling on the AIMS test is one way thousands of students have landed tuition waivers to Arizona's three universities. But that may soon change if the Regents approve a proposal to cut the AIMS scholarship amount in half, while ramping up eligibility requirements, according to the Arizona Republic.

In February, Arizona State University proposed cutting the AIMS scholarship altogether - a move that was later supported by the University of Arizona and partially supported by Northern Arizona University, according to the Arizona Daily Star. That proposal was unaminously rejected by the Regents, who left future cuts or elimination of the scholarship on the table. [Watch the video above for Superintendent Tom Horne's take on the initial proposal]

The scholarship is officially known as the Arizona Board of Regents High Honors Endorsement Tuition Scholarship, and is given to students who score an "exceeds" standards rating on all three portions of the state standardized test - reading, writing and math. According to the Arizona Deptartment of Education, students have until the end of junior year to exceed on all three sections, giving many a reason to retake the exam until that happens.

This new proposal, while not eliminating the scholarship, would reduce the amount awarded to each student to $3,000 a year - only about half of what tuition costs. It would also make only those students who exceeded the AIMS the first time around, as sophomores, eligible for the award - potentially cutting the number of recipients by 65 percent, according to the Arizona Republic. The cuts wouldn't go into effect until 2011, meaning current high school juniors and seniors would be eligible for the scholarship under the old requirements.

More than 5,500 students currently have the scholarship, costing Arizona's three universities about $28 million. That number is expected to jump to $40 million next fall. The cuts, if approved, would reduce each school's estimated costs of $13 million to $4 million.

In the Arizona Daily Star story, ASU President Michael Crow said the continuation of the AIMS scholarship will only pass cuts off to other merit-based scholarships.

"I think we owe it to our stakeholders to be clear that if we avoid this difficult choice, we are forcing other difficult choices," he said. "We are asking for tuition increases and looking at other merit students who would not get scholarships."

"By avoiding a difficult choice, we've simply passed the cost off somewhere else — it will be felt by other kids, other stakeholders."

So I guess the real question is, which kids most deserve to get college paid for? Based on a March 16 article in the New York Times, I think I know what Crow's answer would be.

Arizona State University recruits National Merit Scholars nationwide with a four-year $90,000 scholarship, a package so generous that Arizona State enrolls 600 National Merit Scholars, more than Yale or Stanford, the article said.

I suppose all those hard-working Arizona kids should just be thankful for their $3,000 a year - after all, it's not like they're National Merit Scholars.

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