Wicomico will keep Wor-Wic Scholarship Program going

The Wicomico County Council agreed not to discontinue the Wicomico Economic Impact Scholarship program implemented two years ago and allow it to be replaced by a new state program, at least until details of that program are certain.

In a meeting last week, Bryan Newton, Wor-Wic’s Vice President of Enrollment, Management and Student Services, urged council members to wait until it was known how the state will disburse money in its Community College Promise Scholarship.

The state program would make college education more affordable and help Maryland residents struggling with student debt but Newton said it is still unclear how it will be administered and how money will be allocated across the state. It was funded at $15 million, indicating not everybody eligible will be aided in the coming year.

Wor-Wic offers the lowest tuition in the state among community colleges, so students could be identified as having the lowest need and not receive any state money if it runs out, he said.

County Councilman Marc Kilmer agreed it makes sense to wait “until the state program structure is completely known and understood so we know how to adapt to ours.”

Wicomico County Council President John Cannon asked if having 18 students start school under the scholarship program, but having only eight continue, means a 50-percent loss.

“We have to look at this very carefully because it is taxpayers’ money,” Cannon said.

Newton said there are currently eight in the program in the current cohort, but others have transferred to a four-year college, completed the associate’s degree or chosen another educational path.

He explained some students can’t continue because they don’t meet the required grade point average or must carry fewer than the 12 credits required.

Referring to the annual report about the scholarship program, Newton said in 2017, applications increased from 131 to 183 but completed applications – on which the financial aid portion was filled out — fell to 81. In the end, there were 70 eligible applicants and 18 received some funding.

For the fall 2018 semester, Wor-Wic had 342 initial applications and 108 were completed, with 91 in the end. Sixteen will receive some Economic Impact Scholarship funding, Newton said.

Concerning cost, Wor-Wic spent $33,826 on the 2017 and 2018 cohort for the scholarship program, including reimbursement of dual enrollment fees for those who completed eligibility requirements at the end of the year, Newton said.

After two years, the total cost for 2016 and 2017 was $91,918, leaving $120,000 in the Community Foundation.

Sixteen of 27 students are still enrolled from the original 2016 cohort after two years. From the 2017 cohort, 10 of 18 “have had some success,” he said.

Program challenges include the annual family income cap of $75,000 and requiring students to carry 12 academic credits.

That can be difficult, because 60 percent of students work more than 20 hours per week. “That certainly is an issue for the program as it is structured now,” Newton said.

Councilman Larry Dodd said some students transferred to other schools, even though the goal was to try and keep students in Wicomico County.

Dodd said he noticed there are a lot of low grade point averages among students in the scholarship program.

“How can we justify paying for these college credits when some of these students aren’t even passing?” he asked.

Newton said no college, and certainly no community college, will graduate 100 percent of its students. Wor-Wic provides support and coaching and has committed staff and resources to offer ever-increasing intervention “but ultimately the student has to do his or her part.”

“We can’t guarantee a pass rate for any of these students. Success, persistence, is a challenge. There are no guarantees in terms of funding these students,” Newton said.

“I just don’t want the taxpayers to say we are wasting money,” Dodd said.

Wor-Wic, Newton explained, has created the new position of Director of Student Success, to help all students, including those in the scholarship program.

Replying to another question from Cannon, Newton said there is no requirement for students who did not continue in the program to return scholarship money.

Kilmer said he would like to see grade point averages of incoming students, if they were eligible for remedial classes, if they took those classes and if it made a difference.

Newton thanked council members for their support.

“We appreciate all that you do for us, as well as the county executive. I know we don’t always agree on the structure of this program but we know that you’re committed to Wor-Wic and what we do and we appreciate all that you do,” he said.

In 2016, County Executive Bob Culver originally proposed the Wicomico Economic Impact Scholarship, an ambitious undertaking to pay tuition for any high school graduate who wanted to attend Wor-Wic.

It was designed to cover tuition and fees — but not books and supplies — for eligible high school graduates and would cost the county $665,000 annually and, during three years, an estimated $1.46 million.

After much conversation, and some heated arguments in 2016, the program was approved.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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