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State scholarships' GPA terms waived; students’ lives disrupted, official says

by Jaime Adame | March 31, 2020 at 7:04 a.m.
FILE PHOTO: Students at the University of Arkansas Little Rock makes their way to and from classes on foot and by bike along a shaded pathway on campus September 2014 in Little Rock.

Students in college receiving Academic Challenge Scholarships will have minimum grade-point average requirements waived as part of the state's response to the covid-19 outbreak, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Higher Education said Monday.

"With some institutions moving forward with a Credit/No credit type of grading, we want to be fair to all students who might have found themselves in a position to not earn a letter grade," spokeswoman Alisha Lewis said in an email.

More than 30,000 students received the Academic Challenge Scholarship in fiscal 2019. Lottery proceeds help pay for the scholarship awards, which normally require college students to maintain a cumulative grade-point average of 2.5 to remain eligible for the aid.

The change is part of a suspension of most continuing eligibility requirements for state scholarships, Lewis said.

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The University of Arkansas at Little Rock last week said students may request Credit/No Credit grading in courses, though some classes may not provide the option. Officials with Arkansas Tech University and the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville have described ongoing discussions about possible grading changes.

Lewis, in explaining the change, also cited the disruption to students' lives caused by the new coronavirus outbreak. Colleges have suspended in-person classes and switched to online-only instruction in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

"There have been so many situations that have arisen outside the control of the student; this is an exercise of good faith recognizing that many students don't have access to all of the resources normally made available to them," Lewis said.

Lewis said the change to scholarship requirements was decided on Friday after a March 17 executive order from Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The order asked state agencies to shed any rules hindering an ability to provide "maximum assistance" to citizens following guidelines to stop the spread of covid-19.

The suspension of certain scholarship requirements is set to last for 30 days from the date of Hutchinson's executive order, but Lewis said that as a matter of "practicality" an extension will likely be warranted.

The state Division of Higher Education is a part of the state Department of Education, and state Education Secretary Johnny Key approved the change, Lewis said.

Still in place is an enrollment requirement, but that's now based on a student's course load prior to spring break, Lewis said.

"For example, if students must be enrolled in 15 hours per the specific continued eligibility of the scholarship, and they were enrolled in that required credit hours prior to Spring Break, they will automatically be granted a continuation of the state scholarship for the fall 2020 semester," Lewis said.

For students attending a four-year college, the Academic Challenge Scholarships provide $2,000 for a student's first year, $4,000 for year two and the same amount for year three, and $5,000 for a student's fourth year of study.

Among other scholarships and grants, the state also awards the Governor's Distinguished Scholarship, which typically would require a minimum 3.25 cumulative grade-point average at the end of each academic year.

Another award, the Arkansas Future Grant, or ARFuture, has a mentorship and community service requirement that is being waived as well, Lewis said.

Metro on 03/31/2020

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