HSU, Arkadelphia Promise program try to fill gap from lessened lottery scholarships

By Wayne Bryan Published December 15, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Glen Jones, standing, president of Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, congratulates students signing to attend HSU during a May 21 ceremony for Arkadelphia Promise Scholarship recipients at Arkadelphia High School. The Promise program and HSU have both worked to enhance student funding following Arkansas Lottery scholarship cuts.

ARKADELPHIA — The latest report on ticket sales for the Arkansas Lottery shows the amounts going to college scholarships for the fiscal year are down, and schools and scholarship programs are working to be ready if they must fill the gaps for the state’s college-bound students.

A report made to the Arkansas Lottery Commission on Monday by Lottery Director Bishop Woosley showed ticket sales increased by only one-tenth of 1 percent over the first four months of fiscal 2014, but that the amount raisedby the lottery for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship decreased by 4.3 percent, or more than $1 million from the same period a year ago.

According to the report, even if the lottery’s $1.5 million in unclaimed prizes during that period are not claimed and are placed in the scholarship fund, the total would be still be $1.7 million under budget.

Woosley said in his report to the commission that it was too early to revise the budget, saying he expects a bump in sales during the spring, yet some of those who control other scholarship funds are looking at the long-term effects of diminished funds for the state scholarships.

“We’re playing a guessing game,” said Jason Jones, director of the Arkadelphia Promise, a scholarship program for Arkadelphia High School graduates. “The state lottery has not done what we hoped they would do, and we have only a set amount of money, pledged by Southern Bancorp and the Ross Foundation, for 18 years.”

Jones said the Promise scholarship is set, and program officials have a good idea about how much the 2014 scholarships will be, but plans are not yet set for 2015.

“We have not thought out everything year by year,” he said. “This is not the golden ticket, but we know it will help a lot of kids with a lot of money. We will do the best we can to make the money go as long as possible.”

Since students who qualify for the Promise scholarships first have to qualify for the Arkansas Lottery scholarship and the amount given from the lottery has gone down, so has the amount of scholarships given each student.

One way the Promise organization is working to help students maximize their education dollars is to meet with them and their families and help them apply for other scholarships.

“We provide a lot of information and work with the families so they can make

informed decisions about scholarships,” Jones said. “There are plenty of places out there offering help, and we help match them up. It doesn’t change what we are doing, but it helps the students find more money for their bills.”

He said the lottery scholarship is now weighted toward the end of a student’s college career.

“We help more up front so that students stay in school and have a higher retention rate,” Jones said.

In October, Jones announced that Promise scholarship students are staying in school, one of the primary missions of the formation of the scholarship fund. He said 85.9 percent of the original class of Promise students (2011) returned for their junior year.

“This is what we hoped for when we began this journey three years ago,” Jones said.

Announced early this month, Henderson State University, also in Arkadelphia, has increased the school’s scholarship amounts to help make ends meet for students who have received fewer funds from the lottery scholarships than they hoped to see.

Jones praised the university’s administrators for their efforts to help students enter college and stay there.

“They redid their whole program,” Jones said. “They really did more for everyone. They ramped up the money to recruit the higher-performing students they seek, and yet also offered more to those lower-achieving students.”

The changes to the Henderson scholarship program were announced in November.

“In light of the changes to the Challenge Scholarships and recent increases in the cost of higher education in Arkansas,” said Lewis Shepherd, vice president of student and external affairs at HSU. “Henderson is attempting to provide quality education for students at a price they can afford.”

Shepherd said HSU would offer $14,000 per year to the top students who qualified for the Distinguished Freshman Scholarship. That’s an increase of $3,000.

In addition, a scholarship designed for community-college transfer students was increased to $6,000 for transfers with up to 60 credit hours and at least a 3.0 grade-point average.

Stephen Schoonmaker, president of College of the Ouachitas in Malvern, also praised Henderson for what the university offered COTO students who wanted to move on to the four-year school.

“I applaud Henderson State for how they have offered the transfer student a favorable scholarship package,” Schoonmaker said.

He said the COTO has also seen a 6 percent increase in re-enrollment this year, and he believes one factor my be the cuts in the Challenge scholarships for four-year schools.

“When the lottery scholarship started, they offered the student twice as much money to go to a four-year school,” Schoonmaker said. “As the lottery has twice reduced those scholarships, it has re-equalized the amounts given and made the two-year schools a better bargain again.”

In addition, he said, the designation of COTO as one of the top 10 community colleges in the nation, and an improving economy, has helped make the school more attractive to potential students.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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