Scholarships are awarded based on various criteria that reflect the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award and are often used to encourage progress toward strategic objectives. They may reward excellence in academics (merit-based scholarships), encourage students to complete certificates or degrees, recruit students to participate in various programs (e.g., athletics, teaching, criminal justice), or remove financial barriers to college attendance (need-based scholarships). In some cases, a scholarship award amount is based on consideration of both merit and need. While not scholarships per se, there are similar programs that will forgive a loan based on meeting certain qualifications (e.g., working for a specific number of years in rural health care).
Scholarships at Utah System of Higher Education institutions may come from private donors, institutional funds (e.g., Dream Weber and SLCC Promise), or state-administered aid (Utah Promise Scholarship). USHE students may also receive federal financial aid in the form of grants (money that does not have to be repaid), or loans (where repayment is required). Some students may also receive loans from private organizations.
The USHE Board of Regents organized the State Scholarship Task Force to examine how best to redesign existing scholarship programs to meet the needs of the state without requiring additional funding. For this study, the Scholarship Task Force focused on three of the larger state scholarship programs:
- Utah Promise Scholarship ($2,479,915): a need-based scholarship designed to address financial barriers to college attendance.
- Regents’ Scholarship ($16,062,500): a merit-based award designed to improve college readiness by requiring high academic performance in high school and adherence to a very specific high school curriculum;
- New Century Scholarship ($1,983,900): a merit-based award intended to encourage Utah high school students to accelerate their education by earning an associate degree in high school from an institution within the Utah System of Higher Education or by completing a specific math and science curriculum;
The Task Force recommends that the state:
- Discontinue the New Century and Regents’ Scholarship programs and their requirements that students follow specific high school curricular pathways with the graduating class of 2021. Students up to the 2021 cohort and students who are currently participating in those scholarship programs would continue to be eligible for funds in accordance with board administrative rules. After the high school class of 2021, both programs will be replaced by pass-through funding for institution-administered merit scholarships linked to ACT scores and grade point averages.
- Split funding allocated to state scholarship programs with the aim of eventually reaching a ratio of 30% of the funds going to institutions for merit scholarships and 70% of the funds going to institutions for the Utah Promise program.
- Shift the administration and awarding of the merit funds to institutional financial aid or scholarship offices rather than the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education.
- Adjust the Utah Promise Scholarship to allow federal aid to “stack” on top of the state aid program to provide stronger financial support to students.
- Regularly assess the effectiveness of state scholarship programs in meeting their stated purposes.