General Assembly Scholarships do more harm than good

Although I agree that scholarships encourage students’ access to higher education, I must take exception to the recent Daily Illini editorial published Wednesday stating that the Illinois General Assembly Legislative Scholarship program should be modified and continued. The editorial writers suggested that the program should be fixed rather than eliminated, noting that “removal of the program eliminates one more financial aid option available to students.” While this statement is not untrue, it is very superficial.

The General Assembly Scholarship program is one of 10 unfunded mandates in the form of tuition waivers affecting this state’s public universities, five of which also affect community colleges. As legislative acts without appropriate funding, fulfillment costs fall primarily on the public universities and community colleges, contributing to increases in tuition for all students while negatively affecting access and completion rates. As stated in the editorial and many recent news articles, these programs are loosely managed, and, in some cases, have significant potential for abuse. They are each managed by a different office or agency, and most of these do not collect data in a manner that provides adequate accountability.

According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the cost of these unfunded mandates was approximately $39.2 million for fiscal year 2007-2008. The General Assembly scholarships — benefiting 1,258 students — accounted for more than $9 million. (These figures were cited in a paper I prepared for a graduate-level education policy course here in Spring 2010.) Because waivers reflect actual tuition costs, the overall cost of these unfunded mandates rises in direct proportion to increases in tuition.

Ironically, State Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-12, whose personal abuse of the scholarship program was noted in the editorial and an article on the front page of the same edition, received a fair amount of media coverage in 2010 for his criticism of some public university presidents for their spending and tuition policies.

So, yes, grants and scholarships are very important, especially those focused on increasing access, rewarding scholastic achievement or reflecting societal priorities such as increasing diversity. But just having the word “scholarship” in the title does not automatically merit editorial endorsement.

_Richard Kubetz,

University staff member_