Legislature has an opportunity to help


Editorial Board

The Issue:

The South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship has become a hot topic at the South Dakota state legislature.

The Stance:

The South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship has proven to be a wise investment, but now it is time for the state to do more.

The South Dakota state legislature is going over the South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship with a fine-tooth comb. According to the Board of Regents’ Web site, the scholarship was first awarded in 2004 and gave students who scored a 24 or higher on the ACT $5,000 over the course of four years to stay in South Dakota. This is the fourth year it has been awarded and the BOR wants South Dakota lawmakers to consider a few changes.

The major alteration called for with SB 59 would change the per semester credit hour requirements. Right now, all recipients are required to take 15 credits in order to keep the money, but students in some majors-like engineering, nursing and pharmacy-are told to take only 12 during some semesters. It is reasonable that the legislature would expect students to be able to complete 15 credit hours each semester; by completing Regents Scholar curriculum, recipients proved that they could handle a full slate of tough classes.

Of course, that was high school, and labs and clinicals didn’t exist, and most students didn’t need a job for survival, just for spending money. Because of departmental instruction, these students have to jump through hoops in order to continue receiving their scholarship. The BOR has already dealt with 300 appeals this academic year. A change to 12 credits each semester would give students a better opportunity for academic success.

With SB 201, proposed by Gov. Rounds, the main change would lower the minimum ACT score from 24 to 23. He expects that with the change, 200 more students would qualify for the scholarship. While it would be wonderful that Rounds wants to help more students go to college, lowering the ACT score just isn’t the way.

A better option for helping students is to create a needs-based scholarship. South Dakota is the only state in the country that doesn’t offer scholarships specifically for students from low-income families. By offering two separate scholarships, the original intent of the Opportunity Scholarship-to offer “significant financial incentives to students who take a set of demanding courses in high school and stay in state for college” according to Rounds-would stay intact and would continue to be the honor it is for the 2,876 students who are benefiting from it this year.

The changes that could come to the Opportunity Scholarship in 2008 are a step in the right direction, but more changes are needed. Legislators should reconsider increasing the amount of money awarded as well as begin discussing the possibility of a second, separate scholarship in order to reach out to more students.