Going To College May Get Tougher For Oklahoma's Promise Students

Monday, May 7th 2007, 6:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- When he was a junior at Oklahoma State University, Joe Dorman's interest in student government and a campus honor society left him with "C", "D" and "F" grades and sent his grade point average of more than 3.0 spiraling downward.

Dorman, now a Democratic state representative from Rush Springs, says proposed changes to a tax-supported scholarship program that would require students to maintain a 2.5 GPA might mean that thousands of students like him would lose the opportunity to stay in school.

"I was a good student, but I had one bad semester by over-involving myself with extracurricular activities," said Dorman, who attended OSU on a state scholarship plan that preceded the popular Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program, also called Oklahoma's Promise.

"Being vice president of the Sophomore Honor Society got me a flunking grade," he said.

The GPA requirement is among several requirements the Oklahoma House tacked on to legislation that would create a permanent funding source for OHLAP scholarships, which will cost $48 million this year and about $60 million next year. About 17,800 students will go to a state college or university under the program next year.

Under OHLAP, Oklahoma high school students can get a tax-supported scholarship if they take a rigorous college curriculum, maintain a 2.5 GPA, stay out of trouble and their families earn less than $50,000 a year.

Amendments proposed by the Republican-controlled state House would require OHLAP recipients to maintain the 2.5 GPA in all but one "grace period" semester in college, meaning that OHLAP students would have to make at least half "B's" and half "C's" to keep their scholarship. Currently, there is no GPA requirement for OHLAP students.

Other changes include allowing home-schooled children to qualify for scholarships if they score at least 22 on the ACT test, require OHLAP students to stay out of trouble during their college years, restrict scholarships to U.S. citizens and legal aliens and require that family income remain below $50,000 throughout the student's college career.

The amendments have been rejected by the Senate and the bill is in a joint House-Senate conference committee to work out differences.

Their author, Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, said they will bring accountability and an expectation of performance to OHLAP students.

"It's about not just writing a blank check," Terrill said. "We expect him to get a good education so he can give something back."

Oklahoma is below the national average in the number of college graduates as well as per capita personal income.

"Statistics show that there is a clear link between the level of educational achievement and the amount one earns over a lifetime," Terrill said.

But higher education officials said the GPA requirement will have a negative affect on the state's goal of increasing the number of Oklahomans with college degrees and could impact up to 30% of OHLAP students.

"We would have some concerns that it might be keeping some out of the program who ultimately might be successful," said Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson.

"It is important to provide opportunities for students to go to college. Anything that would not further our goal of more college graduates presents some concerns," Johnson said.

The state Board of Regents for Higher Education said a review of 10,500 award recipients enrolled in state colleges and universities in 2005-06 showed that 37% of freshmen had a GPA of less than 2.5. In addition, 24% of sophomores had a GPA less than 2.5, 13% of juniors and 7% of seniors.

The statistics reflect a trend in which the academic performance of many high school students drops when they enter the college environment.

"If students don't have the skills to balance their classes and activities that freshman year, they're set up for failure," Dorman said.

Statistics regarding Oklahoma college freshmen show their average college GPA at the end of their first semester of college was approximately a half-grade point lower than their high school GPA, regents said.

"They do drop," Johnson said. "And then the longer that they are in college, the grade point average improves."

Regents said a significant number of OHLAP students that make below a 2.5 GPA their first semester go on to graduate. Of the fall 2001 entering freshmen class, 44% of those with under a 2.5 first-semester GPA either completed degrees or were still enrolled five years later.

"Our overarching goal is to produce more graduates," Johnson said. But a review of large scholarship programs in other states with similar college GPA requirements show that most students lose the scholarship.

The Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship requires a 2.75 college GPA after 24 credit hours and a 3.0 college GPA after 48 credit hours. A recent report shows that 50% of the scholarship recipients lost the scholarship after one year and that nearly two-thirds lost the scholarship by the end of the second year.

In Georgia, the HOPE Scholarship requires a 3.0 college GPA. Studies indicate that about 50% of students lose the scholarship after their first 30 credit hours. At the end of 90 credit hours, the proportion of students retaining the scholarship may be less than one-third.

Studies also found that Georgia's GPA requirements reduced the probability of full-time enrollment, increased the probability of course withdrawal and reduced the number of math and science courses completed by freshmen students.

Terrill said he may propose postponing the effectiveness of the GPA requirement in Oklahoma until a student's sophomore year. Dorman said lawmakers should do all they can to assure the state has a well-educated work force.

"We've got to make sure these kids have the opportunity to succeed," Dorman said. "Taking away the opportunity for students to succeed in college is not going to get us there."