FREE tuition program luring students

Monday, August 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Students are flocking to a scholarship program offering free tuition to state colleges.

Nearly 9,500 students enrolled in the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program in the 2000-2001 academic year, compared with 3,509 the previous year, said Bryce Fair, assistant vice chancellor for state scholarships and grants.

To qualify, students must have a 2.5 grade point average and a family income no higher than $50,000.

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Increased interest in the program, which began in 1992, came after the income restriction was eased and a publicity campaign was launched. The income limit was $32,000 before lawmakers increased it earlier this year.

``We've enrolled almost as many in one year as we did in eight years,'' Fair said. ``It's incredible.''

Oklahoma state regents say the program is an excellent way to improve preparation of high school students entering college and to get more students to go to college.

``Measuring Up 2000,'' a study of the nation's higher education systems released by the National Center for Public Policy in November, gave Oklahoma a D-plus in preparing students for college. The report's authors wrote that too few students take rigorous courses in core academic subjects such as math and science.

The report also said that just 35 percent of the state's high school freshmen enroll in college four years later compared with 54 percent in top performing states.

Fair said 2,372 of those enrolled in the program are eighth graders, marking a sharp increase of interest among the youngest students qualified to apply for the program.

``We got a call this week from Guymon Junior High, where we already sent materials a couple weeks ago, asking for more materials,'' Fair said. ``They've got a hundred applications waiting, mostly among eighth graders.''

A federal program called GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, provides additional aid to lower income participants in the state program by covering needs beyond tuition.