The county’s scholarship program, to pay tuition for eligible Wor-Wic Community College students, was pronounced successful on Tuesday.
Bryan Newton, Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Services at Wor-Wic, said 118 students completed the entire application process for the fall 2016 semester.
Eighty-four were eligible for scholarship funds and 67 completed some college credits.
Some weren’t eligible because of the $75,000 annual family income cap instituted by the County Council and others decided not to attend school.
“That is a good number,” Newton said, adding he’d like to see more students complete 12 credits per semester while maintaining at least a 2.0 grade point average, both requirements of the program.
Newton said 59 qualified for full financial aid, 25 received some funding and eight of the 25 received full funding through the program. Six have re-enrolled.
Demographics included 53 percent white students, 32 African-American, four Hispanic and three Native American. There were 63 percent females and 37 percent males, mirroring the population on most college campuses.
Newton estimated Wor-Wic will spend about $13,284 for the scholarship program for the spring 2017 semester. The amount will fluctuate during the semester, depending on scholarships and students who drop classes, he said. The cost of a 12-credit semester is about $1,200.
In February, County Executive Bob Culver proposed the county pay tuition costs for any high school graduate who wanted to attend Wor-Wic. Called the Wicomico Economic Impact Scholarship, the initiative was designed to cover tuition and fees — but not books and supplies — for eligible high school graduates. It would cost the county $665,000 annually and, during three years, an estimated $1.46 million.
After much conversation, and some heated arguments, the program was approved.
In July, Culver, County Council President John Cannon, Wor-Wic President Ray Hoy, President of the Community Foundation Erica Joseph and other officials gathered at Wor-Wic to celebrate the council’s approval.
But some council members had – and still have – concerns about the money the county is spending, including Councilman Joe Holloway, who asked Newton how students will be tracked, to assure they stay local after their educations are paid for.
“We need to know these people are staying in Wicomico County and working in the county,” Holloway said.
Newton said programs are in place to determine students’ whereabouts and those programs could be expanded. Also, Wor-Wic receives information about students who transfer and their success rates at other schools.
As the application process is more fully developed, Newton said, tracking will become more sophisticated.
Responding to Holloway, Newton said Pell grants cover tuition for low-income students, but there are also students caught in a gap between low income and high income who don’t receive grants. High school graduates interested in attending Wor-Wic, whose families have annual incomes above $75,000, will still struggle with college costs “for a variety of reasons,” Newton said.
Councilman Marc Kilmer asked the goal of student meetings with academic coaches. Newton said coaches determine the status of each student and talk to each about events or circumstances that could require financial assistance or counseling.
Kilmer asked how the economic impact of the scholarship program will be measured. Newton said markers such as graduation rate and successful employment will be considered.
Newton said because the program was new in the fall of 2016, “We didn’t have time to prepare students like we would like.
“We had applicants we had to deny due to the income cap. We believe that’s an ongoing challenge,” he said.
Those from low-income households usually have to work one or more jobs while going to school and often have problems within their families that impact academic performance, he said.
Council President John Cannon asked if the required grade point average should be increased “so we know we are getting a higher quality student.”
“These are taxpayers’ dollars and we don’t want to frivolously throw it away,” Cannon said.
But Newton said a higher grade requirement would impact students in lower income brackets who might not have succeeded as well as other students.
Still, Cannon suggested determining if most of the students required to maintain a 2.0 “are cutting it” and Newton agreed.
Reach Susan Canfora at firstname.lastname@example.org.