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2010 January 11 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Tenn. Drops Plans To Boost College Scholarship Awards

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Budget pressures have forced Gov. Phil Bredesen to abandon plans to boost the lottery scholarship awards for community college students.

Will Pinkston, a senior adviser to the Democratic governor, said that increasing the annual scholarships from $2,000 to $3,000 had been one of Bredesen’s top priorities until just weeks ago.

Higher education officials are warning that demand for lottery scholarships could soon outstrip the state’s ability to pay for them. They point to increased enrollment amid poor economic conditions and an expected increase in the number of eligible students because of more accountability in education.

“If what we are trying to do as a government is encourage more people to go into the two-year environment, perhaps we need to put incentives in place to better make that happen,” Pinkston told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “But that isn’t going to happen this year.”

Bredesen has called community colleges a “magic ingredient” for improving Tennesseans’ higher education program, but has so far been unable to fulfill his 2006 campaign promise to provide free tuition to two-year schools for high school students who maintain C averages or better.

Bredesen has announced a special legislative session on education next month. On higher education, the governor’s proposals include standardizing community college courses to make it more clear which credits transfer to four-year schools and shifting all remedial education responsibilities from four-year schools to community colleges.

“We have a deficit that is going to continue to widen over time if the program continues to grow,” said David Wright, associate executive director of policy, planning
and research at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

That may require lawmakers to consider making lottery scholarships more difficult to earn and keep, lowering scholarship amounts, or canceling smaller programs, Wright said.

“If in fact we do want to increase the community college award, I think there could be good reasons to do that, but we have to address these fiscal realities,” he said.

Chattanooga State Community College President Jim Catanzaro said he was disappointed to hear that the increased scholarships are no longer on the table. Two-year schools can be a better academic fit for many high school graduates, and are far less expensive than four-year schools.

“It is in the best interest of students and certainly the taxpayers for students to come to community college initially,” Catanzaro said.

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