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Board of Regents approves reducing AIMS scholarship

When Brittany Morris was finishing high school in the West Valley, her grades were good but scholarship offers weren’t exactly flooding in.

“Had it not been for my eligibility for the AIMS scholarship … I might not have made it to college at all,” Morris, a freshman from the University of Arizona, said at an Arizona Board of Regents meeting Thursday.

The board later voted 9-1 to scale back the state AIMS scholarship, approving a proposal that would implement stricter academic standards for eligibility and cut the award from 100 percent to 25 percent of tuition.

In addition to meeting AIMS and grade-point average requirements, students will have to score at least a 1300 on the SAT1 or have an ACT composite score of at least 28 to qualify for the award.

The changes will take effect with the high school graduating class of 2013.

An ABOR report released before the meeting pointed to unanticipated numbers of qualifying students and the ensuing financial strain on universities as catalysts for the changes.

“I don’t want to change the AIMS scholarship, but I don’t see the budget there that allows it to remain the way it is,” Regent Ernest Calderón said.

Regents also questioned the validity of using the AIMS Test as a predictor of college preparedness.

“This is the right idea …(but) this is the wrong test,” Arizona State University President Michael Crow said.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, the sole member to vote against the proposal, said the AIMS scholarship has for years provided an incentive for students to work harder in school and to not only meet but exceed academic standards.

“Make no mistake: We cut 75 percent out of (the award), the incentive is gone,” Horne said.

In a telephone interview, ASU senior Meghan Mast, an AIMS scholarship recipient, said she fears the plan will make some students give up hope of being able to pay for a four-year university.

Mast said she had planned to go to community college before she was offered the AIMS scholarship. Instead, she got “that valuable four-year university experience” without ever paying more than $1,000 a year out of pocket.

Pete Wagner, also a senior at ASU, said in a phone interview that the scholarship gave him financial flexibility and “took the pressure off” him as well as his parents.

Though regents acknowledged that the award has helped numerous students, they maintained that more students are qualifying for the award than the university system can comfortably pay for.

In fall of 2006, 1,565 scholarship recipients enrolled at the state’s three public universities, according to an ABOR report. By 2009, the number of new freshman scholarship recipients nearly doubled to 2,935.

The scholarships cost Arizona universities around $12 million in the 2010 fiscal year, the report said. With the adopted changes, the annual cost to universities is expected to be gradually reduced to about $4 million per year.

University presidents said the money saved could be funneled into other forms of financial aid. The universities will be directed to report annually on the reallocation of that money, the report said.

“We’re just trying to get a reasonable balance for the universities and the students,” ABOR President Tom Anderes said.

“We all agree that we’ve got to raise the performance standard … in our state,” said ABOR Chairwoman Anne Mariucci. “I personally feel this is where we start.”

Facts about the AIMS scholarship:

• Took effect: 2006.

• Who qualifies: Arizona students who score an “exceeds” in the three sections – reading, writing and math – of the AIMS Test.

• Can be used at: Northern Arizona University, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona.

• Not covered: Students are responsible for fees.

• Changes: Regents approved a plan Thursday to lower the tuition covered from 100 percent to 25 percent and added ACT or SAT scores to the mix.

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