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Legal changes to scholarship affect students

A bill passed through the Arkansas Senate on Monday could affect about 300 John Brown University students as well as many hopeful prospective students.

The bill amends provisions of the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship, changing the award amount structure. Instead of the current $4,500 awarded each year, the amount will be tiered with students receiving $2,000 the first year, $3,000 the second, $4,000 the third and $5,000 the fourth.

The Arkansas Lottery Scholarship’s lack of funding provides the main reason for the change. While more students apply for and accept the scholarships than anticipated, the revenue from the lottery has remained relatively flat, reported Shane Broadway from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

Lawmakers also hope the amendment will create a better incentive for students to stick with it and complete their degrees. According to Rep. Charlie Collins from Fayetteville, students in the current program go the first year and then quit, burning a lot of money in an “ineffective way.”

However, at the University where retention rates remain high, the tiered structure limits prospective students’ ability to afford a private education. Don Crandall, vice president for enrollment management, explained the issue.

“[The bill] will help particularly at the community college or public school where the retention rates are much lower, but for schools that have a higher price point like JBU and other private schools in Arkansas, I think it’s going to impact our enrollment,” Crandall said.

Crandall reported that about 30 percent of the University’s full-time enrollment hails from the Natural State, and a majority of this percentage is eligible for the lottery scholarship.

“Prior to having the Arkansas Challenge scholarship, we were closer to 25 percent representation from Arkansas, and that has grown to 30 percent,” Crandall said. “So if that amount is decreased, especially for new students, I am assuming that it is going to impact our enrollment.”

David Burney, assistant director of financial aid, said the University’s efforts will not be able to provide a direct correlation to make up the gap created by the bill.

“It’s going to be a focus on the conversation with the family,” he said. “If you take a step back, we were able to make it work before the Challenge existed for this number of people, so we are going to be able to make it work again.”

Burney and Crandall both highlighted the fact that the scholarship increases the longer students stay. If students can make it work the first year, it becomes easier the next.

“On average, our costs are going to go up about a $1,000 a year, so you are going to be covered,” Crandall said. “As our costs increase for those students they will have increased grant money that will help offset most of that increase.”

Burney said students currently enrolled receiving the scholarship may be “grandfathered in” to the program, meaning they continue to receive the same amounts.

An Associated Press report released last week said the changes would go into effect the 2013-2014 academic year, and the 32,829 students already in the scholarship program will continue to receive funding at the existing levels.

The bill may also bring good news for the University’s nontraditional students. The proposal increases from $12 million to $16 million, the amount of scholarships the state can set aside for those who did not enroll in college immediately following high school.

“Where we may feel an impact with fewer new students from Arkansas in our traditional undergraduate program, our degree completion program may see an increase of those students, which I think is a great thing overall,” Crandall said.

Though Crandall said there were both pluses and minuses to the bill, he also recognized the moral dilemma. He said if you look at statistics statewide, the poorest counties have the highest number of lottery ticket purchases, and these dollars essentially benefit students from more affluent counties.

“I don’t want people to go out and buy more lottery tickets. That’s a bad thing,” he said. “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. That is just a bad model altogether. JBU and me are personally against the lottery overall, but now the lottery is in place, and it’s benefiting scholarships. I think that is a good thing in the state of Arkansas.”