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Lawmakers consider change to merit scholarship

By Jessica Arp, jarp@wisctv.com
Published On: Feb 10 2014 06:20:39 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 10 2014 07:40:41 PM CST

An important merit scholarship could change drastically under a bill considered at the State Capitol Monday.

MADISON, Wis. -

An important merit scholarship could change drastically under a bill considered at the State Capitol Monday.

Assembly Bill 697 would cut the number of students getting money under the Academic Excellence scholarship handed out by the state by nearly half, from 800 to 450 students. But it would increase the amount of the scholarship from $2,240 a year to 50 percent of the cost of tuition at the state school of their choice.

The scholarship has been given out for 25 years and was capped in the '90s. Lawmakers said it's time to make the amount more meaningful.

"Those higher performers, this dollar amount isn't doing as much as it could or should, and thus we are are losing the best and brightest from this state," said Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville.

The bill would directly affect Monona Grove students Claire Vavrus and Elijah Isenberger. Both are in the running for the two scholarships now available at their school and are debating between both in and out-of-state options.

"It's a pretty big amount of money because $2,250 is how much I made working the whole summer, so it's a significant amount to me and every little bit helps," Vavrus said.

The bill's reduction in total scholarships would mean Monona Grove could only award one scholarship instead of two. Vavrus is second in line for the scholarship at her school, and is debating between the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Purdue University.

"I think that would mostly mean that I'm out of the running, so I might take a bigger look at Purdue and see what more they have to offer," Vavrus said.

In total, she thinks the idea of offering fewer scholarships for more money isn't the way to keep more students in-state.

"It provides opportunity to more people," Vavrus said.

But Isenberger, who is first in line for the scholarship at Monona Grove, disagrees. He's debating between Madison, Stanford and Harvard, and admits that any money is helpful. But he said if the goal is keeping students in-state, then an increase in the award is a good idea.

"We're talking about the best of the best in Wisconsin," Isenberger said. "They have a lot of other options of Ivy League places they could go to, and the financial aid programs there have large endowments and can throw some money around. If you're talking money as a determining factor I think bumping it up to 50 percent is going to attract more people in the state."

Stroebel said last school year 357 students offered the scholarship declined, and it's unclear why.

At Monona Grove, the top student in the high school didn't apply to any in-state schools and won't be eligible.

The state Higher Education Aids Board, who administers the scholarship, said Monday they had concerns about reducing the number of awards.

The bill will still need a vote in committee before advancing.

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