House and Senate to haggle over hikes in Hathaway scholarships

By Ron Feemster
— February 25, 2014

Ron Feemster, WyoFile reporter

The Joint Interim Education Committee sponsored Senate File 55 to raise all three levels of Hathaway scholarship awards by 10 percent. But during floor debate, the Senate cut the increases to 5 percent. Now the House Education Committee has voted to restore the 10 percent increase, a move that sets the stage for conference committee negotiations, should the bill pass as amended in the House.

“It was an amendment on the floor,” said Hank Coe (R-Cody), chair of the Senate Education Committee, who testified before the House committee Monday evening just after the House  adjourned for the day. “I think actuarially, the Hathaway fund is strong enough to absorb the 10 [percent]. There was a discussion on the floor: ‘Four or five years down the road if things are not good, what are we going to do if we’ve got this increase in there?’ I’m here to tell you that I’d respect and appreciate it if you’d take it back to 10 percent.”

The Senate could vote to concur with the House amendment and restore the 10-percent hike in the scholarships. If not, the matter will be taken up in a conference committee.

Testifying for the University of Wyoming, Mike Massie noted that the top “Honors” level of the Hathaway scholarship covered 91 percent of the cost of tuition at the University of Wyoming in 2006 and only covers 73 percent today, which increases the gap a student must cover by 18 percent.

The “Performance” and “Opportunity” levels have added gaps of 14 percent and 10 percent in their tuition purchasing power, Massie said.

Wyoming high school students who graduate with a 3.5 GPA and score at least 25 on the ACT standardized test receive the “Honors” award of $1,600 a semester from the Hathaway fund. A 3.0 GPA and a score of 21 qualify a student for a “Performance” award of $1,200 a semester. The “Opportunity” award of $800 goes to students who maintain a 2.5 GPA and score 19 on the ACT.

Mike Massie

“The Hathaway was set up as a way of taking windfall profits of a boom era to benefit students in perpetuity,” Massie said in an interview after the committee meeting. “The program increases access to college and serves as an incentive for high school students to get better grades. If they perform, the state helps with tuition costs.”

Since the program started in 2006, the percentage of students qualifying for the Honors level has increased from 41 percent to 47 percent, Massie told the committee.

“The program challenged students,” Massie said. “And students responded.”

Both the amendment to raise the scholarship increase to 10 percent and the bill itself passed out of committee by votes of 9-0.

The House committee also passed Senate File 13 by 9-0. The bill would allow students to use their Hathaway money for short summer school courses and mini-courses in January before second term starts. This was allowed in practice, but the bill anchors in statute the students’ right to spend the money for short courses.

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