Md. Senate Approves Scholarships
By Amy Argetsinger
The Maryland Senate approved a sweeping $25 million scholarship program yesterday designed to make a college education affordable for more families and entice more top students to stay in the state.
The so-called Hope Scholarship would be one of the most generous and far-reaching higher education grant programs in the country, guaranteeing $3,000 a year with few strings attached to all middle-class high school seniors who graduate with an A or B average and maintain those grades at a Maryland college. An estimated 4,200 college freshmen a year would receive scholarships once the program gets underway. Members of the high school class of 2000 would be the first students eligible.
The program, which is likely to pass the House of Delegates, has long been championed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) as a sign of his commitment to education issues. He has often spoken of how he grew up in a poor family, his path to a doctoral degree paved almost entirely by scholarships.
Glendening introduced a more generous proposal two years ago, only to see it die in the legislature under the weight of its own cost. He returned this winter with a slimmed-down plan, reducing the size of the individual grants and halving the overall cost of the program.
Some lawmakers complained that the expensive program will win support only because the governor attached it to a much more popular initiative: scholarships for aspiring teachers who promise to work in Maryland, a measure aimed at averting a looming shortage in the state.
Glendening acknowledges that he linked the two programs to bolster his Hope plan. But he said that both programs fill vital needs in Maryland's economy other skilled workers also are in short supply.
"If you look at the want ads today, it is some type of college degree that is required," he said. "The doors of opportunity are closed" for those lacking a diploma.
Glendening's proposal is inspired by Georgia's Hope Scholarship program, which has given about 337,000 students free college educations since then-Gov. Zell Miller (D) started the wildly popular initiative in 1991.
The idea quickly gained political popularity across the country. A handful of other states have followed suit, including Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina. President Clinton has frequently called for a national Hope Scholarship and has appended the title to a new tuition tax break.
But Glendening's original $50 million plan got a cool reception in Annapolis two years ago. While Georgia's scholarships were funded by a special lottery, Maryland's lottery proceeds were already tied up, and lawmakers said the state couldn't afford the amount. At the time, Glendening was promising full-tuition scholarships for students at public colleges, or the equivalent amount applied to the bill from a private institution in the state.
This year, Glendening returned with a more modest plan, reducing the offer to $3,000 a year, although students may still apply the amount toward the cost of a public or private institution. Tuition and fees at the University of Maryland at College Park this year are about $5,168. An estimated 2,600 grade-worthy community college students would be eligible for scholarships of $1,000 a year.
Unlike the Georgia plan, which is open to all students, only students from families with an annual income of $80,000 or less could receive the Maryland Hope Scholarship.
The Hope Scholarship would be phased in over three years, offered next year to students pursuing majors in the region's fastest-growing fields, including health, biological sciences, architecture, math and public affairs. It would be expanded over the next two years to include students in all majors.
Recipients would have to work in Maryland one year after graduation for each year they received the scholarship, or pay back the money plus interest.
Students also would be required to maintain a 3.0 grade-point average while taking a full load of classes. If they do, their scholarship would be renewable for up to four years.
However, state fiscal analysts estimate that 36 percent of freshmen will keep their grades high enough to renew the scholarship, based on the track record of the Georgia Hope program. Regardless of the expected attrition, Glendening said, students need the incentive to work hard. "If more students do better, there will be more money there," he said.
Some lawmakers complained the program would encourage teachers to artificially raise the grades of their students, to help them win or renew the scholarships. Maryland higher education officials said studies of the Georgia program found no evidence of grade inflation.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company