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Md. Plan Would Give College Grants to Poor Pupils

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Armed with a new study indicating that the disadvantaged are being shut out of higher education, Maryland officials last week proposed to overhaul the state's financial-aid programs to open new channels to college for the neediest students.

The plan, presented to the State Higher Education Commission by its secretary, Shaila Aery, calls for replacing the state's existing aid program by 1995 with "Free State" grants for low-income residents.

In a report supporting the proposal, the commission's finance-policy committee cited the new American College Testing study, which the panel said showed that the "enrollment of low-income youths in colleges and universities is declining because of the growing emphasis on student loans." (See story on page 1.)

"It was serendipitous that the act study showed up while we were preparing our report," said Ron Phipps, the commission's assistant secretary for finance. "The act study is eloquent testimony confirming what we're trying to address."

Instead of loans to students, the new program would provide grants covering the full cost of public, four-year institutions in the state. These "Guaranteed Access" grants would be available to any student from a family with an income below the poverty line who had participated in a proposed early-intervention program for disadvantaged students, Mr. Phipps said.

The early-intervention program, which would begin next school year, would provide 10th-grade students with special counseling and courses designed to prepare them for higher education, he explained.

Students above the poverty line would be eligible for grants up to 40 percent of their college expenses--10 percent more than the state's main program, General State Scholarships, currently provides. Assistance to those students would be limited, however, to no more than $2,500 a year.

Given projections that the state could face a substantial budget deficit next year, Mr. Phipps acknowledged that the proposals are not certain to win approval from the legislature. The plan would add an estimated $14 million to the cost of existing programs.

But Mr. Phipps said he was hopeful about prospects for the plan, adding that approval of it would put Maryland "in the vanguard of a new financial-aid movement."

Shift to Public Institutions

Sponsors of the new aid package said one of its effects would be to shift academic aid toward public institutions and away from expensive private colleges, which now get a disproportionate amount of the state's $24 million in scholarship funds.

Private colleges now represent 15.7 percent of the total full-time undergraduate enrollment in the state, the report notes, but receive 41.2 percent of state financial aid. Under the new plan, their share would drop to an estimated 23.5 percent.

Aid to students in public, four-year institutions, who currently make up 56.2 percent of the state's full-time undergraduate enrollment, would in8crease from 53.4 percent of the total to a projected 68.8 percent, the report indicates. The remaining 7.7 percent of state aid would go to community-college students.

To help offset the cost of the $25-million plan, the report suggests using $8 million currently spent on a controversial legislative-scholarship program under which lawmakers hand out grants to constituents.

Newspaper reports have revealed that some legislators have been giving scholarships to relatives or the children of political workers. And a consultant's study, released early this year, recommended that the legislative scholarships be dropped.

Part-Time Students Aided

The report also recommends other new aid programs for fiscal 1993, including:

  • Scholarships for part-time students, who represent more than half of all Maryland undergraduates. The grants would total $1 million a year, to be disbursed by individual colleges and universities.
  • College savings bonds designed to encourage middle-income families to save for their children's education. The bond program would cost $1 million a year.
  • A state "Math/Science Student Corps." The program would forgive about $2,000 in state student loans for 200 graduates in those fields each year who agreed to remain in the state.
  • A Public Service Partnership providing $1,000 for up to 100 students who did volunteer work in low-income or environmentally damaged parts of the state.

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