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Students, parents worried about possible loss of AIMs college aid

Citizen Staff Writer



About 50 Sabino High School juniors spent Tuesday morning taking the AIMS test with one goal in mind: Getting a tuition waiver to one of the state’s three public universities.

They may be out of luck if the Arizona Board of Regents decides to suspend the program, initiated in 2006, that grants students who excel on the AIMS test scholarships covering university tuition.

Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University are mandated by the regents to offer the scholarships, but no state funding is provided for them.

To receive the scholarship, students must “exceed” standards on the three Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards sections, have a 3.5 grade point average or be in the top 5 percent of their class, and receive only As and Bs in the 16 core classes required for university admission.

ASU President Michael Crow has formally petitioned the regents to suspend the program, and documents from a Feb. 19 regents’ meeting show that NAU and UA also believe suspension might be necessary in light of severe state budget cuts.

“It’s no secret these scholarships have cost the universities a lot of money,” said John Nametz, UA director of financial aid.

It’s also no secret they help motivate students.

“Normally just the top 2 percent of the school qualifies for a scholarship from the universities,” said Jill Ronsman, a Sabino counselor. “When you have kids getting a 4.18 GPA, then 2 percent is down to maybe a 3.9. The AIMS scholarship takes (it) down to a 3.5, which opens the doors to many more students.”

Nearly 5,800 university freshmen through juniors are receiving AIMS scholarships. According to figures from regent staff, the AIMS scholarship cost the universities a total of $16.5 million in the 2007-08 academic year. This academic year, the cost is $25.6 million. Assuming a similar increase next year, the cost would rise to at least $34 million.

When the universities have taken nearly $200 million in state budget cuts this year and are facing equal or greater cuts next year, $34 million could help keep professors in classrooms and lights on in the buildings.

But suspending the AIMS scholarship may reduce the number of students able to learn from those professors.

“If they are really going to suspend the program, I’m sure there will be a lot of parents upset about it because students are counting on it,” said Jason LeValley, a counselor at Tucson High Magnet School.

N.J. Utter, a counselor at Desert View High School in Sunnyside Unified School District, said she thinks suspending the AIMS scholarship would not negatively affect her students.

“Only 14 percent of our kids go on to a four-year college and they are our top kids so they had already received scholarships of equal or greater amount to the AIMS,” Utter said.

Each university only allows students to accept one merit scholarship offered, so they cannot “stack” the AIMS on top of another offer, Nametz said.

Regents President Fred Boice said he’s received “multiple” e-mails from parents concerned that the program will be suspended.

“Quite honestly, I don’t know what we’re going to do. I don’t believe a sophomore in high school has been specifically promised an AIMS scholarship, but the senior in high school who has been notified? I think we have to honor that commitment and someone in college on that scholarship … we can’t withdraw it,” he said. “There’s a lot of shuffling going on about what we can do and they will all be reviewed by the board before the universities can do anything.”

Parents, students, counselors worried about possible loss of AIMS scholarships

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