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Regents deny universities’ plea to halt AIMS scholarships

TEMPE – The Arizona Board of Regents voted unanimously Friday against a proposal to eliminate the AIMS scholarship program, which provides tuition waivers to high school students who exceed standards on the test.

The board rarely denies requests from university presidents, but it did so by voting against the proposal. University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton and Arizona State University President Michael Crow sought to discontinue the scholarship beginning in 2010 because of tighter budgets resulting from state cuts to the university system.

ASU, UA and Northern Arizona University spent more than $27.5 million total in 2008 on the scholarships for 5,544 students, according to regents’ figures. University leaders have said the vast majority of those students would qualify for other scholarships.

Friday’s vote assures high school upper-class students who meet AIMS scholarship requirements that they will receive funding for the time being. The regents could vote to eliminate it at a later date.

Regents asked university leaders to present options regarding the future of the AIMS scholarship – formally titled the Regents High Honors Endorsement Scholarship – to the Academic Affairs Committee in April.

Threat of its elimination and heated debate drove Regent Ernest Calderon to propose an amendment that would guarantee the scholarship for current sophomores, juniors and seniors regardless of future board decisions.

The vote on that amendment was a tie, with Calderon supported by regents David Martinez, III, Robert Bulla, LuAnn Leonard and Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction.

Regents Fred DuVal, Fred Boice, Dennis DeConcini, Bob McLendon and Anne Mariucci voted against the amendment.

Because the vote ended in a tie, the amendment died.

“If there are cuts to be made, this is not the area to make the cut,” Calderon said. “Preservation of the AIMS scholarship is paramount. I don’t know if anyone understands the amount of angst and anxiety among our high school students since the announcement. When you take away someone’s hope that is one of the cruelest things that can happen.”

Crow said that the universities aren’t taking away hope because other scholarships are available and “the AIMS students are not the highest performers based on objective measures.”

Horne took issue with that, pointing to data provided by the universities that in the 2007-08 academic year, the average GPA for AIMS scholarship students was 3.56 while the average GPA for students receiving other merit awards was 3.40.

NAU President John Haeger argued for a “wait and see” attitude toward the AIMs scholarship, saying one of the most intractable problems universities have is retaining students to the sophomore year and beyond.

“Of the AIMS students who came in 2007, the retention rate was 86.6 percent while the general retention rate is somewhere in the high 60s,” he said. “We’ve created a group of students who succeed in college, whether they succeed at the highest level (or not). And remember, these are Arizona students we are bringing into college.”

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