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Bill to overhaul Regents' oversight targets their scholarship instead

Published March 1, 2012 4:44 pm

HB284 • Lawmakers wants college-level courses to count toward scholarship.
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High school senior Narnia Brockman wanted to take physics taught by a University of Utah professor, but that would have required her to forfeit her shot at the Regents' Scholarship.

That's because the university-level class doesn't qualify as a "lab-based" science course under the criteria set by the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE). Therefore, it doesn't count toward a $5,000 incentive the state provides students who complete tough classes to prepare for college, Brockman told a House panel Wednesday.

"I couldn't afford to take the class. I need that money to continue my education. I'm in honors physics, but it's not nearly the course I want to take," said Brockman, who attends school at the Academy of Math, Engineering and Science (AMES).

Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, is sponsoring a bill addressing the situation, but his fix might cost taxpayers $12.6 million because it would increase the number of students who qualify for aid. Still, the House Public Utilities Committee advanced the bill Wednesday to the House floor.

HB284 originally proposed a dramatic overhaul of higher education governance, but Dougall recently substituted the text to zero in exclusively on how the State Board of Regents awards its namesake scholarship. For high achievers like Brockman, Dougall says, the program can induce them to take fewer rigorous courses.

AMES physics teacher Douglas Hendricks agrees.

"This [university course] is calculus-based physics. It is far more rigorous than any physics taught in the high schools," Hendricks said of the course Brockman wanted. "I find it amazing that the Regents office will give the scholarship to a student who takes it online where they never see the teacher and the only lab they do is with things lying around their kitchen."

Brockman said she will have completed 30 university credits by the time she graduates this spring, but none of those classes was as challenging as physics class she didn't take.

"Let's not kid ourselves. If you are doing calculus in high school, you are performing at a high level," Dougall said. "There is a disincentive to perform even higher because of the way this [scholarship program] is structured."

HB284 would allow students to substitute a single college-level course for an entire multiyear course of study in math, English, foreign language or social science.

USHE has not taken a position on Dougall's bill, but associate commissioner of higher education David Buhler cautioned that it could expand the number of qualifying students by 5,000, even though many may not have taken hard classes their senior year.

"If you want to change the program and fund it, great. That's your decision," he told the panel.




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