Bill could change scholarship payment schedule


Staff And Wire Reports

The South Dakota House approved a bill on Feb. 23 to delay Opportunity Scholarship payments to college students until their sophomore year.

Supporters say the bill allows students to still receive their full $5,000 and helps the state through a financial squeeze. Others say the bill makes it hard for students to budget, and it removes the financial incentive that convinces many high school seniors to stay in state right away.

The scholarship program was created in 2003 to keep the best high school graduates in the state by providing $5,000 in financial assistance over four years of college. The money is distributed in $1,000 allotments in each of the first, second and third years of school and $2,000 in the fourth year.

House Bill 1224, approved by a margin of 44 to 26, shifts the payment schedule to $1,000 at the start of the second year and again at the start of the third year, $2,000 to begin the fourth year and $1,000 in the final semester of the fourth year.

The House heard testimony that said 28 to 30 percent of recipients lose eligibility for the program after their first year of college for reasons that include poor grades and not enough credit hours.

By giving the first payment only to students who are still eligible as sophomores, the state could save around $330,000 each year, said bill co-sponsor Rep. Ryan Olson, R-Onida, in a House Education committee meeting last week.

The first year of the delayed payments would save the state about $1 million and help in a year of tight financing, said Rep. Jacqueline Sly, R-Rapid City, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Otherwise, there might be less money for the program and smaller scholarship amounts, she said. If not enough money is available to give all qualified students the full amount, all scholarships are prorated and distributed equally.

“Funding is the big issue,” Sly said. “We’re trying to keep it going rather than cut the funding because once it goes down, it’s harder to bring it back.”

Janelle Toman, director of information and institutional research for the Board of Regents, said all students could get the full amount this year if legislators follow the governor’s budget, which proposed a full allocation for the Opportunity Scholarship. The Board of Regents, the governing body for the state’s public universities, is opposing HB 1224.

“We think it’s important to have the money available to students their whole college career,” Toman said.

Patrick Weber, assistant executive director for the Student Federation, agreed with Toman.

“House Bill 1224 takes away the incentive for students to stay in state by not giving them a scholarship in their first year, and it makes it hard for students to budget for their college career when the pay structure is so uneven,” he said.

Brookings legislators were split on the Feb. 23 vote. Rep. Larry Tidemann voted no, while Rep. Carol Pitts voted in favor of the bill. HB 1224 now heads to the Senate.

Opportunity Scholarship Facts

? The Opportunity Scholarship was created in 2003. ? The scholarship allocates $5,000 distributed throughout four years of college.

? HB 1224 would delay the first payment of the scholarship to the first part of sophomore year.