County Council looks to limit Wor-Wic scholarships

The Wicomico County Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution requiring high school seniors applying for Wor-Wic Community College’s scholarship program to carry at least a 2.5 grade point average.

The resolution is on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, with no opportunity for public comment until the end of the meeting, after the Council votes.

“We never implemented a grade point average as part of the qualification. We feel that is really something we overlooked and it needs to be addressed to make sure students getting the scholarship are going to be qualified and successful in the program,” Cannon said.

He said when the Wicomico Economic Impact Scholarship  program – proposed by County Executive Bob Culver in May 2016 and  strongly supported by him – was implemented last year, it was mandated that each student maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher to continue, but not to be initially accepted.

Wor-Wic President Dr. Ray Hoy told the Salisbury Independent he is concerned about the GPA requirement because “the whole intent behind his program is to help people access higher ed, who were not otherwise going to, and to keep them in the community.”

Statistics show most community college graduates are more likely to remain in the area, even after they earn advanced degrees, Hoy said.

“In the case of enrollees this fall, from the number of students who received a full or partial scholarship, there were 18, and 10 would not be eligible with less than a 2.5 GPA.

“We know that, the more economically challenged an individual is, typically the more academically challenged they are. If we can give them the opportunity and some of the many services that we have to offer, such as tutoring and learning centers and advising and the writing center, and those things we can do to help support their education, hopefully we can give them a chance,” he said.

Requiring a specific GPA for admission a year after the program began, “is very disappointing,” he said.

“It sounds like they want to change the rules in the middle,” he said.

Sister scholarship programs in Garrett, Somerset and Allegheny counties don’t require 2.5 GPAs to be accepted, Hoy said.

“That’s the way it’s been approached. We are an open admission college,” he said.

County Executive Bob Culver disagreed with tightening requirements, too, saying the Council had “plenty of time to vet this before it passed” and that they “took time to change the income limit” and could have also addressed the GPA.

County Administrator Wayne Strausburg called the need for a resolution “Nonsense.”

“The GPA was discussed at the inception. It’s not an oversight. It’s changing the rules,” he said.

Marty Neat, chairman of the Wor-Wic Community College Board of Directors, objected to the resolution and told the Salisbury Independent the scholarship program is “a good example of the county supporting local students.”

“The program can make a huge impact on the community. It would be a shame to put restrictions on it,” he said.

At the Oct. 3 County Council meeting, Bryan Newton, Wor-Wic’s vice president for enrollment management and student services, updated the Council on the scholarship program. Councilman Marc Kilmer told him that of 84 original students, only 25 received county money and now there are 11 who will get money from the county in the coming year.

But Neat said those numbers “speak volumes.”

“Those 84 students wanted to go to school,” he said.

Some received other scholarships or grants and some were disqualified because the County Council capped what their family’s annual income had to be.

“We ought to be doing what we can to support this. Don’t put a GPA limit on it. You know, you’re talking about kids who maybe had a bad freshman and sophomore year before they realized they wanted to go on with their education. This is an investment,” Neat said.

At the Oct. 3 meeting, though, Kilmer called the difference in the original enrollees and those who continued “a 56 percent wash out rate.”

“More than half the people who received county money didn’t persist. Do we know the reason why?” Kilmer asked Newton. Newton said students gave family pressures and work responsibilities as reasons.

“I wouldn’t refer to it as washing out. There are a variety of reasons for why they aren’t continuing. They aren’t continuing in this program, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t continuing,” Newton said.

Cannon told Newton he always advocated for the program on the basis of economic development.

“It’s not the program I’m concerned about. I’m concerned about the efficiency of the program. I’m very concerned we haven’t set restrictions on a GPA for students who want to go into the program,” he said.

Cannon said spending almost $40,000 for 11 students eligible to continue averages to $3,500 per student.

“To me, understanding what the true benefits are of the program, I have a concern with it. Every penny of this is taxpayers’ dollars. It’s not ours, so I have a concern when it’s costing about two and one-half times more than it would cost,” he said.

“It definitely needs to be worked on, to continue,” Cannon said.

Kilmer told Newton the program was “poorly designed to meet the diversity of students that you face.”

“I’m looking at this data and seeing, why aren’t these people with free tuition able to maintain 2.0 or why aren’t they able to maintain 12 hours?” Kilmer asked.

Newton said there are a variety of barriers at any community college.

“A community college serves a different population of students,” he said. “I don’t think that negates the purpose of the program, the value of the program,” Newton said.

Councilman Larry Dodd said 11 students don’t make a highly educated workforce. Newton said it is an investment in students on their way to a degree or certificate, ready to be employed in the county and pay taxes.

The 11 students haven’t graduated, but are beginning their second year, Newton said. Dodd said the County Council met a student excited about the program, but also eager to move to Baltimore, “so that isn’t going to help us.”

Newton said 18-year-olds “have a lot of things on their minds as far as where they are going to go,” but more than 90 percent of Wor-Wic graduates stay in Wicomico County.

Councilman John Hall supported the program.

“Whether it’s one student or whether it’s 11 or whether it’s 35 … they ensure a prosperous future for our county,” he said.

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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