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La. Oilman Hits the Road To Promote 'Taylor' Plan Assuring College Access

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By Mark Walsh

A Louisiana oilman who successfully pushed higher-education reforms in his own state is now lobbying other states to provide greater access to college for low-income youths.

Patrick F. Taylor is the creator of a plan, named for himself, that provides free tuition at state colleges and universities to qualified students from low- and middle-income families.

The program was approved last year by the Louisiana legislature. It went into effect in the fall, at an estimated cost of $1 million in its first year.

Since then, Mr. Taylor has traveled around the country speaking to governors, legislative committees, educators, and business officials in states considering similar plans.

"In the next 10 years, if we don't get a third of our high-school kids going to college, we are are going to cease to exist as an industrial nation," said the owner of the New Orleans-based Taylor Energy Company. "We have to expand the pool of recruits."

In a number of states, policymakers are paying attention to what Mr. Taylor has to say.

One of the first fruits of Mr. Taylor's efforts is Indiana's 21st Century Scholars program, which Gov. Evan Bayh signed into law last month. The program was modeled in part on the Taylor Plan.

Similar legislation has also been introduced in Florida, Illinois, Georgia, and Ohio, and is being readied in several other states as well, according to John W. Smith, executive director of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation.

These efforts are the latest examples of a trend among the states to adopt tuition-incentive programs, which are also known as "assured access."

In 1988, New York adopted the Liberty Scholarship Program, under which participating students receive special counseling to assure their success in high school. Beginning in 1991, the program will pay students' expenses at state colleges and universities that are not otherwise covered by financial aid.

Rhode Island's Children's Crusade for Higher Education, created by Gov. Edward D. DiPrete, will sign up 3rd graders and their parents to pledge the students will stay in school and avoid drugs. Upon graduation from high school, those who qualify financially will be able to attend public institutions tuition-free, or get an equivalent amount for private institutions in the state. (See Education Week, Sept. 13, 1989.)

Similarly, Indiana's new program will make up the difference between other state and federal financial aid and the tuition at state institutions. Aid will be available to low-income students who pledge, beginning in the 8th grade, to meet the state's conditions, which include abstaining from alcohol and illegal drugs.

In New Mexico, legislation passed last year allows disadvantaged students who score a 25 or higher on the American College Testing program's admissions exam--or who are in the top 5 percent of their high-school4graduating class--to receive free tuition, fees, and books at a state institution.

"This is a fabulous response, not only by individuals but by governors and the states to develop a coordinated approach to get more minority and low-income students into college," said Richard Novak, director of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities' Center for State Higher Education Policy and Finance.

"I think they have looked at the low number of low-income students going to college and have taken the bull by the horns," he added. "Federal student-aid programs are wonderful, but they are not providing as much money as they should be providing. We've got to turn to our own initiatives."

Mr. Taylor, who runs one of the nation's major independent oil producers, got the inspiration for his concept at the classroom level. In 1988, he made a promise to a group of 221 low-achieving middle-school students in New Orleans that he would send them to college if they finished high school with a B average and did not become pregnant or get involved with crime.

Mr. Taylor's experience is similar to that of the New York philanthropist Eugene Lang, whose offer of aid for college to a class of students at a New York City school has inspired many other business leaders across the country to copy the idea. Mr. Lang's "I Have a Dream" program was also an impetus behind the adoption of New York's scholarship program. (See Education Week, Oct. 26, 1988.)

But Mr. Taylor admits that his and other small-scale efforts may not amount "to a hill of beans" when compared with the national need to improve access to higher education for large numbers of low-income students.

Arthur Hauptman, a Washington higher-education consultant, agrees that such efforts must be expanded at the governmental level.

"It is unlikely that the amount of aid provided through a network of philanthropists and a smattering of cities and institutions will ever be sufficient to make a large dent in the underlying problem," he argues in a new book, The Tuition Dilemma, published by the Brookings Institution.

"States are the most logical candidates for a governmental approach to assured access," Mr. Hauptman contends.

Mr. Taylor says that he spent countless hours of personal lobbying to persuade the Louisiana legislature--which was struggling to cope with the state's severe, ongoing fiscal problems--to adopt his tuition-exemption plan.

To qualify for state-paid tuition under the plan, students must score at least 18 on the act, have a high-school grade point average of at least 2.5 on a 4-point scale, and complete a core curriculum that includes chemistry, two years of a foreign language, and three advanced mathematics units.

Eligibility for the program is limited to students whose family income is less than $25,000 a year if there is one child, $30,000 for a fam8ily with two children, and $35,000 for three or more.

The relatively tough academic admissions standards drew some opposition, particularly from black legislators, who contended that the requirements were too difficult for many low-income black students.

To Mr. Taylor, however, the standards are the key ingredient in making such students successful in college.

More than 1,000 students applied for the program in the first year, and Mr. Taylor said he has heard from school principals that students are signing up for the required math, science, and foreign-language courses.

"This is really just an extension of the idea of providing a free public education, but now we need to go beyond the 12th grade to remain competitive," Mr. Taylor said. "But college is different from high school. We must have admissions standards."

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