Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Regents consider cutbacks for AIMS college scholarships

The AIMS scholarship, one of the most widely given merit scholarships in Arizona, could become much tougher to obtain, meaning thousands of additional college students would have to pay up to full in-state tuition.

The Arizona Board of Regents is looking at keeping the AIMS scholarship but essentially cutting it in half and limiting it to high school students who achieve an “exceeds” on the standardized AIMS test their sophomore year, the first time they take it.

The scholarship now covers nearly full in-state tuition, but the regents are considering cutting it to $3,000 a year, about half of what in-state tuition costs. The changes would begin with the high-school Class of 2011, current sophomores.

The changes are being considered as the three state universities – Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University – cope with budget cuts brought on by the state’s fiscal crisis.

Many students get the scholarship by continuing to retake the 10th-grade Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards test until they score an “exceeds” on all three parts: math, reading and writing.

The possible change could cut eligibility by 65 percent, according to an analysis by the regents staff. The idea is still under discussion by a regents committee, but the topic could come before the board as early as this summer.

The 5,544 students who have the scholarship now, as well as high school juniors and seniors, would be exempt from any changes.

The honors scholarship started in 2006 with the goal of rewarding high-achieving students and encouraging them to attend in-state universities. Called the Regents High Honors Endorsement Scholarship, the award quickly became known as the “AIMS scholarship” and is one of the most well-known on high school campuses. One reason for its popularity is its objective eligibility requirements. High school students who start taking AIMS as sophomores can continue retaking any of the three portions to improve their scores through their junior year. Students don’t have go through interviews, write an essay or do community service to get the award.

Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, who spearheaded linking the scholarship to the AIMS test and is also a regent, said he opposes any changes. The scholarship benefits students because it motivates them to study hard, he said.

“The universities would lose because those students who do study hard end up being much better prepared for the universities,” he said.

About $28 million in AIMS scholarships was awarded this school year at the three state universities. That’s about 20 percent of the $141 million in total merit scholarships given. The cost of AIMS scholarships is expected to grow to about $40 million this fall, when a fourth class eligible for the award enters college.

Changing the eligibility requirements would cut the scholarship’s cost for each incoming class from an estimated $13 million to $4 million.


What it means to students

The changes under consideration would:

• Cut the scholarship amount to $3,000 a year, about half the value of the current full-tuition award.

• Limit the award to those who test well the first time. Students would need to meet the “exceeds” level on the AIMS test their first time, instead of retaking the test to boost their scores.

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