Arizona State University has proposed suspending its scholarship program for high school students who pass the state AIMS test because of severe budget cuts. The proposal would require the approval of state regents and affect hundreds of students entering the university next fall.
Neither University of Arizona nor Northern Arizona University officials have formally broached the idea, but they will be watching with interest as a regents’ committee discusses the future of AIMS scholarships at a mid-March meeting and the full regents’ board takes up the matter at its April meeting.
“We’re avidly awaiting the outcome of any discussions,” said John Nametz, director of student financial aid and scholarships at the UA. “For some time it’s been a struggle for the universities, all three of us, to fund these scholarships.”
Craig Fennell, ASU’s executive director of student financial assistance, called the program an unfunded state mandate that can no longer be sustained because of major cuts in university funding by the state Legislature.
Since 2006, AIMS high honors tuition scholarships have been offered to incoming freshmen at the three state universities who have exceeded standards on the 10th grade AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) test and who meet other academic requirements.
Recipients who will be sophomores, juniors or seniors in the fall would remain eligible for renewal of the scholarships, which cover all or most tuition costs, by meeting certain criteria.
Tom Horne, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, who instituted the AIMS program, said the scholarship program is of great benefit to the universities because it provides an incentive for incoming students to exceed basic entrance requirements.
“We’re vigorously opposed to any suspension of the AIMS scholarship fund,” Department of Education spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico added. “People are in the queue and they depend on it.”
Currently, 5,785 freshmen through juniors attending ASU, UA and NAU receive AIMS scholarships, with a total value of $25.5 million, according to regents and Department of Education figures.
Of that, ASU has 2,509 current recipients of AIMS scholarships totaling $12.5 million, UA has 2,265 students receiving tuition waivers worth $10.6 million and NAU has 1,011 with scholarships valued at $2.4 million.
In-state tuition for NAU freshmen for the fall 2008 semester was $5,145; Arizona’s $5,274, ASU’s $5,409. Fees are not included in the scholarships.
Arizona’s Nametz said he would expect the university to enroll about 1,000 students who have AIMS or Regents’ high honors designations next fall.
“Many of those students will also have university scholarships that are as large or larger,” he said. His counterparts at ASU and NAU also emphasized that most of the AIMS scholarship recipients would qualify for other scholarship programs too.
But David Bousquet, NAU’s vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, said the Flagstaff-based school has no other scholarships that cover a full tuition.
“Our resources aren’t such that we can afford to do that,” he said. “The largest award we have would be $3,750,” Bousquet said.
There is no doubling up of scholarships, and not all those eligible for AIMS awards end up accepting them. Officials said many of the students who qualify for the AIMS scholarships would be eligible for president’s, provost or university scholarships, so part of the savings from cutting the program would be erased by students taking those stipends instead.
“I believe that it would save very little money,” Horne said. “But what we would lose is the incentive it provides for high school students to work harder to exceed on the AIMS test.
“It would be bad for the universities and the students, and the lack of effort by our brightest students in high school is one of our country’s biggest problems.”
Bousquet noted that the three universities allocate nearly $250 million a year in support of student financial aid.
Any university-provided aid to students, including the AIMS scholarships, comes from the universities’ tuition revenues, said Andrea Smiley, a spokeswoman for the board of regents. “We do not have a state-funded financial aid program in the state of Arizona,” she said.
But Bousquet described the AIMS scholarships as “foregone revenue. It’s money that’s not collected,” he said.