Students who exceed standards on Arizona's high school graduation exam will no longer get guaranteed tuition waivers to the three state universities, the Board of Regents voted Thursday.
Regents said the program is too expensive without funding from the Legislature. They voted 9-1 to scale it back.
The 4-year-old program gives tuition waivers to students who exceed standards on a mandatory high school graduation exam known as Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards.
The AIMS scholarships cost about $12 million last year, far more than the nominal costs officials had projected.
Beginning with current high school sophomores, the scholarships will be harder to get and will be worth less money — one quarter of freshman-year tuition instead of the whole bill.
Responding to requests from university administrators, regents said the scholarships are too easy to earn because the AIMS test measures high school success, not college preparedness. The new standards will require students to also score in the 90th percentile on the ACT or SAT college entrance exams.
State schools superintendent Tom Horne, the lone dissenting vote, said the program was an effective motivation for smart teens to stay focused and excel in high school. Cutting the reward to one-quarter of tuition eliminates the incentive to work hard, he said.
"We have a fantastically successful program and we're looking at destroying it," Horne said.
After the meeting, Regent Fred DuVal did not dispute that the program has motivated students. But he said his job is to ensure that taxpayer money goes toward those who are equipped to succeed in college, and the AIMS test isn't designed to pinpoint them.
Regents created the AIMS scholarship program in 2004 after university officials projected it would cost almost nothing. At the time, nearly all the college students whose AIMS scores would have qualified were already receiving other merit-based scholarships.
When the program became effective in 2006, 1,565 new freshmen received the scholarship. By 2009, the number had nearly doubled, according to a regents staff report.
Regents initially considered scaling back the scholarships for current high school juniors, who have already taken AIMS. In a compromise with opponents, they moved the effective date back a year so it applies only to students who have not yet taken the exam.