Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles written by students who were enrolled in Jennifer Bloom's graduate class in student affairs administration at the University of South Carolina during the spring 2009 semester. As part of her course syllabus, Dr. Bloom required each student in her class to submit an article to The Mentor or other publications for consideration.
In his February 2009 address to the Joint Session of Congress, President Barack Obama made a bold statement calling for every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or vocational training (¶ 66). President Obama made a commitment to increase the level and quality of education within America's schools, citing education as one of his three major future initiatives (Obama, 2009). President Obama has thereby directed the nation's attention to institutions of higher education and the quality of the goods that colleges provide today's citizens. However, the costs of receiving postsecondary education continue to rise, and the current economy leads some parents to question whether they will be able to fund their children's education. These circumstances, coupled with the desire to stimulate revenue for individual states, have led several states to establish state lottery-funded scholarships.
In the early 1990s, Georgia established the nation's first lottery-funded scholarship, the HOPE scholarship. By the end of that decade, more than a dozen other states followed suit (Arnone, 2003). Lottery scholarships fund the tuition costs for thousands of students in those states every year. Furthermore, these scholarships are awarded only to students attending in-state institutions, thereby preventing a brain drain wherein the best and brightest students leave their home states to attend college. States induce students to remain within its borders in the hopes that they will pursue their professional careers within the state as well.
Because of the large amount of funding allotted to these scholarship programs, lottery scholarships have become some of the most common scholarships awarded to students attending in-state institutions in several states. For example, about 54,000 students were awarded a New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship in 1996 alone. The large number of scholarship recipients may be due to the fact that 100 percent of the net proceeds of the New Mexico Lottery go to funding these students' college educations (New Mexico Higher Education Department, 2007).
However, the large number of students who are obtaining these scholarships is tempered by the fact that many of the students receiving lottery-funded scholarships are unable to retain them. Statistics show that students who earn the scholarships by demonstrating high academic performance in high school are losing the scholarships at an alarming rate. For example, in South Carolina, students meeting certain GPA and standardized test score requirements are awarded the lottery-funded LIFE Scholarship. However, fewer than half (47.9 percent) of LIFE Scholarship awardees meet the criteria to renew their scholarships for their second year of college (South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, 2007). In Tennessee, a state with similar renewal criteria, 50 percent of students are unable to renew their lottery-funded HOPE scholarships after their first year (Tennessee Higher Education Commission, 2008).
As is true in most states, students awarded lottery-funded scholarships in South Carolina and Tennessee must meet minimum academic standards to renew their scholarships. In South Carolina, first-year students with LIFE scholarships are required to complete 30 credit hours and obtain at least a 3.0 GPA in order to renew their scholarships for the following academic year (South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, 2007). In Tennessee, first-year students with HOPE scholarships are required to complete 24 credit hours and earn GPAs of at least 2.75 (Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, 2008). In fact, most states award lottery scholarships on the basis of a student's previous academic performance; therefore, the scholarship award is based on the assumption that the student will continue to perform at the same level he or she did in high school. Overall, college students are asked to maintain, not increase, their levels of academic performance from high school, and they receive the scholarship automatically if they do so. Why, then, do half of the students receiving these scholarships lose them after just one year?
Intentionally Reaching Out to Lottery-Funded Scholarship Winners
As more states create lottery scholarship programs for their students, student affairs and academic professionals must become more intentional about increasing the scholarship retention rates for these students. This article seeks to suggest different methods of reaching out to lottery-funded scholarship winners at colleges and universities across the United States.
Some universities have sought to aid lottery scholarship students through their websites, creating a high-volume, user-friendly resource that provides information for a large number of students. According to the New Mexico Higher Education Department's website (2007), students in that state are only eligible to receive lottery-funded scholarships after completing one semester of postsecondary education. Therefore, each individual institution is responsible for initially admitting those students it believes will be eligible to receive the scholarship at a later date. To keep these students apprised of the steps they must take to apply for and receive the scholarship, the University of New Mexico created an office devoted solely to student scholarships. The Scholarship Office website, located directly on the current students home page, provides a veritable one-stop shop for university students who wish to earn a lottery-based scholarship (University of New Mexico, 2006). This site contains information about application deadlines and forms, instructions on completing the applications, and guidelines for maintaining the scholarship. In addition to assisting students obtain the scholarship, the Scholarship Office website also helps those who have lost scholarships, providing instructions on petitioning for reinstatement. These instructions include recommendations regarding content of the petition letter and the appropriate office to address it. In this way, the Scholarship Office is able to efficiently reach out to a large number of students via the Internet. This method of outreach may be most effective in a large public institution in a state like New Mexico that distributes a high volume of lottery-funded scholarships each year.
The Website as a Referral Source
Some universities may choose to make their websites more general, leaving specific questions and issues to be dealt with by individual professionals. The University of Tennessee-Knoxville's Office of Financial Aid website provides general eligibility guidelines for students with lottery-funded scholarships and also serves as a referral source for students with specific questions (University of Tennessee-Knoxville, 2003). The contact information section of the website is sectioned into areas of specialization that connect students directly to the employee best suited to answer their questions. For example, if students have questions about the status of their financial aid, they need to contact a reception area staff member. On the other hand, a financial aid counselor would best address a student's concerns about budgeting and finances. Such specific references assure students that, with one call, they can speak to the person most knowledgeable about their area of concern.
The Personal Touch
Lottery-scholarship recipients are at risk of experiencing a variety of academic and co-curricular issues that are directly or indirectly related to their scholarships. Advisers are well positioned to assist these students. When speaking to lottery-based scholarship recipients, advisers first need to understand the pertinent guidelines for maintaining scholarship eligibility in their institution's state. Furthermore, advisers should understand whether the scholarship is awarded based on need or merit. This information could lead to the discovery of other important issues in the student's life. For example, if the student's scholarship is merit based, he or she may feel a great deal of pressure to earn high grades. This feeling may affect the student's academic decisions, such as which classes to take and the level of course work to shoulder each semester. Assisting a student in such a high-pressure situation may be a key to that student's academic success. It is important for an academic adviser to be the voice of reason and to assist an advisee when he or she attempts to take on an inappropriate workload.
Academic advisers can also help students receiving need-based lottery scholarships. Questioning the student about his or her budgeting and financial management capabilities may be helpful in discerning the cause of stress in the student's life. Underperformance in the classroom could be caused by financial strains in the student's personal life. Also, if students are financially independent, they may be working additional jobs to support themselves. Academic advisers should be aware of these situations, as they could greatly affect students' academic lives. The academic adviser should collaborate with the student to create a schedule that allows ample time for study outside of the workplace. Over time, this high level of collaboration may become less necessary as the student learns to better manage time, but it may serve as the differentiating factor in retaining a student's need-based lottery scholarship.
When working with lottery-funded scholarship winners, advisers should help students carefully plan their classes, since most lottery-funded scholarships have a course-work-progression requirement. Therefore it is important for advisers to remind students about the number of credit hours they must complete each semester, as well as the GPA they are required to attain in order to continue receiving the lottery-funded scholarship. The student's academic adviser may be the only person who can adequately inform the student about what these requirements mean. Reminding students of specific scholarship requirements is also important because the minimum-hour requirement for maintaining the scholarship may be higher than the institution's minimum-hour requirement. The student must be able to differentiate between what the institution requires and what the lottery scholarship requires. Also, some state lottery scholarships allow students to factor credit hours earned during the summer into their overall credit-hour accumulation. Knowing these details would allow the student and academic adviser to plan appropriately.
Most importantly, advisers need to comprehensively understand available academic support services on campus to ably assist students who earn lottery-based scholarships. Given the low scholarship retention rate among these students, advisers need to help these students locate and utilize academic resources on campus. Students should be encouraged to take advantage of tutoring opportunities on campus, as well as workshops focusing on enhancing fundamental study and time management skills. The student's participation in these types of academic programs could ensure that he or she remains eligible to retain the scholarship. Additionally, academic advisers should know how to locate the scholarship requirements online, either on the institution's website or on the state's higher education department website. Showing students how to locate these resources for themselves allows them to access the requirements independently and acquire a greater sense of ownership concerning the scholarship. The adviser should act overall as a facilitator and an enabler, assisting students so that they can take charge of their own academic successes as they mature.
Research shows that approximately half of first-year students who receive lottery-funded scholarships are eligible to retain those scholarships their second year (South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, 2007; Tennessee Higher Education Commission, 2008). As more states create and implement lottery-funded scholarship programs, it will be increasingly important for professional staff members at accepting schools to understand the limitations and requirements of these scholarships. Institutions across the United States have adopted direct and indirect methods of reaching out to this specific student population in order to assist them in retaining their scholarships. Institutions in the process of creating or improving outreach to these students can adopt these practices according to their specific student population. For example, large public institutions may choose to make their websites more informative in addressing the needs of scholarship recipients.
To successfully advise lottery-scholarship winners, academic advisers must start with research. Becoming knowledgeable about their state's lottery scholarship program is the first step in effectively advising lottery-based scholarship winners. Also, all academic advisers in scholarship-awarding states need to learn what questions to ask these students. Ascertaining the student's type of scholarship, as well as the requirements of that scholarship, are important first steps in providing support for lottery-scholarship recipients. Follow-up questions about the student's academic needs are important in discerning the campus resources that are best suited to help that student succeed both personally and academically. Academic advisers can potentially and directly affect these students' scholarship retention, but first they must arm themselves with the proper knowledge to do so.
President Obama has challenged institutions of higher education to consider the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America (Obama, 2009, ¶ 60). This challenge is further compounded by the current economic crisis, which has caused many students to rely even more heavily on obtaining and retaining scholarships to fund their college educations. As an increasing number of states begin state lottery scholarship programs, it is vital for academic advisers to understand and address the specific needs of these students.