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Let's all agree on this one: The more scholarships we can give to high-performing students to pay for higher education, the better off we all will be. It's an unchallengeable assertion.

There is a good debate going on in this country about access to higher education. In general, we need more. President Obama would like the nation to pursue free community-college tuition for all. If anyone is prevented from going to college because of the costs, then we all pay the price. And the return on investment of a few thousand dollars in college generally returns much more, whether the student is pursuing certification in a trade or a Ph.D.

But when that person is a high achiever, someone who has proven that he or she can not only succeed but also excel in higher education, then it becomes the proverbial "no-brainer." We should comp those students the whole thing.

That isn't going to happen in this student-heavy, taxpayer-light state. But helping that group as much as we can is the impetus for Utah's Regents Scholarship program, which since 2008 has doled out $27 million in scholarships to Utah students who excel in high school and continue that success in college. (They must maintain a 3.0 grade point average and take college-oriented classes.)

The Utah Board of Regents wants to expand the program next year and is asking the Legislature for another $8 million.

This is not going to shift the paradigm for most students, but any further investment in this program is money well spent. In fact, it's not spent. It's invested.

Of particular concern are the high achievers who get plowed under by too much post-high school reality. When they first leave the secondary system, the sky is their limit. But when those 20-year-olds get squeezed by rent, car insurance, health insurance and other adult expenses, tuition can become the one expendable cost.

And that plays out in Utah's nagging problem with college completion. Some of those lost students were excellent performers who simply ran out of cash. Shame on us if we don't step in.

Not everyone reaches for the stars in high school, and that doesn't mean they never will. We need to have a higher-ed system that gives everyone a path to productivity.

But those who do strive early, who find both the drive and the ability to master the hard classes, need to be given a green light all the way.

We should literally throw money at them, because one day they'll throw it back.