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January 12, 2006 :: Supplemental Appropriation Will Help State Keep Promises Made to College Students

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Higher education officials say that the State Board of Equalization’s recent revenue estimates indicate that gaming revenues budgeted for tuition scholarships will fall short of expectations for the current year.

At its December meeting, the Board of Equalization projected that gaming revenue will provide $4.6 million less than originally expected in fiscal year 2006. The gaming revenues are needed to pay for tuition scholarships this spring semester that are promised to thousands of deserving college students. That’s why officials are now asking state lawmakers for a $4.6 million supplemental appropriation this fiscal year.

Under legislation that was signed into law more than a year ago, 12 percent of revenues generated from casino gambling are earmarked to help pay for Oklahoma’s Promise-Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP) scholarships.

Oklahoma’s Promise-OHLAP is the state scholarship program that allows high school students from families earning $50,000 or less to earn free college tuition if they meet certain eligibility requirements.
For 2005-06, the Oklahoma Legislature appropriated $27.1 million for Oklahoma’s Promise-OHLAP, which included $7.2 million from gaming revenues. However, gaming revenues collected for the program during the last half of FY2005 and the first half of FY2006 were below estimates.

"Thousands of college students are depending on these tuition scholarships this spring to help pay their college expenses,” Chancellor Paul G. Risser said. “This $4.6 million supplemental will ensure that these students’ educations will not be interrupted and that the success and reputation of this worthwhile program will not be jeopardized.”

Risser noted that $4 million or 15 percent of the total appropriation for Oklahoma’s Promise-OHLAP comes from lottery revenue and that the first deposit for lottery proceeds is scheduled for Jan. 15. If lottery collections are below estimates, he said that the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education may request an additional supplemental appropriation.

Officials with the State Regents, who manage the Oklahoma’s Promise-OHLAP scholarship program, say that approximately 12,000 college students are currently receiving Oklahoma’s Promise-OHLAP scholarships this year. Another 27,000 high school students are enrolled in the program.

Costs to keep the program going have increased substantially as enrollment has climbed following the Legislature’s action in 2000 to increase the family income eligibility from $32,000 to $50,000. Officials project scholarship expenses could increase by more than $10 million to $37 million for 2006-07. In addition, the number of scholarship recipients is projected to rise to about 19,000 students by 2008-09, costing the state anywhere from $44 million to $59 million a year, depending on enrollment, the number of completers and tuition rates.

“We are very pleased and excited about the growth of Oklahoma’s Promise-OHLAP and would hate to see momentum for this successful program slow because of a shortage of funds this year,” State Regents’ Chairman Cheryl. P. Hunter said. “Our legislative leaders have done a great job during the last few years of making sure that not even one scholarship has ever been denied because of the lack of adequate funding. They have stepped up to the plate time and time again and we trust they will continue to do so.”

To earn an Oklahoma’s Promise-OHLAP scholarship, students must sign up for the program in the eighth, ninth or 10th grade, meet the family income requirement, attend classes regularly, complete homework assignments, achieve a minimum 2.5 (C+) grade point average in 17 core courses and earn at least a 2.5 GPA for all courses in ninth through 12th grade. In addition, students must refrain from drug and alcohol abuse and delinquent acts.

The scholarship is good for up to five years at any Oklahoma public college or university. It will also cover a portion of the tuition at an accredited private institution or for select courses at public technology centers.