College widens scholarship reach

This story ran Tuesday, October 6 ,2015, in the print and online editions of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Story by Aziza Musa

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hendrix College is expanding a scholarship program that would extend need-based aid to students from three Little Rock schools and a nonprofit, the college announced Monday.

The private college, based in Conway, has partnered with Catholic High School for Boys and Mount St. Mary Academy, both in Little Rock, as well as Little Rock School District's Central High School and the Arkansas Commitment program -- a nonprofit established in 1999 that helps black high school students become leaders. The links will allow up to four students from each institution to receive scholarships that will cover the full cost of attendance, including on-campus housing and meal plans.

The selected students will be ones who are eligible for federal Pell grants, which are awarded by financial need and do not have to be repaid.

"We live in very challenging times for American higher education," Hendrix College President Bill Tsutsui said. "Moreso than ever before, colleges and universities are being taken to task in the media and around kitchen tables all around the country for costing too much and delivering too little, for not preparing students adequately for employment and for being tone-deaf to the concerns of students and families.

"As the costs of higher education have continued to rise and wages have stagnated, young people have increasingly felt priced out of college, terrified by the prospect of having student loan debt and pressured to make life-changing educational choices based on cost rather than quality, guided by the constraints of their budgets rather than the logic of their heads or the dreams of their hearts."

Tsutsui signed agreements with the four institutions Monday at the Darragh Center Auditorium in the Central Arkansas Library System's Main Library in Little Rock. The agreements are part of the Hendrix Aspire Scholarship program, one that started earlier this year for the state's high school seniors who have a 3.6 or higher grade-point average and who have an ACT college entrance exam of at least 27 or a SAT score of at least 1200, excluding writing.

The new scholarships add to two that the 1,343-student college already offers: one for Hispanic students through an alliance with the League of United Latin American Citizens, and another three for children in the Arkansas Delta through a partnership with KIPP Delta Public Schools. Hendrix enrolled its first four students through those programs this fall.

This year, the average aid package Hendrix awarded was about $40,000, Tsutsui said. The college estimates the cost of attendance for a student living on campus this year to be $56,270, according to its website.

Hendrix is following a national trend of states giving more financial aid based on economic need for its students.

A report released Monday by the National Association of State Student Grant & Aid Programs showed that a national average of 75 percent of state scholarship aid has gone toward students with financial need. In Arkansas, the state's Department of Higher Education Director Brett Powell said the percentage shrinks to 6 percent.

In 2014, Arkansas disbursed some $134 million in state financial aid with about $8 million set aside for fiscal need, the report showed.

The state offers the Higher Education Opportunity Grant and the Workforce Improvement Grant, both based on need, Powell said. The Legislature appropriated about $5.3 million for the Opportunity Grant and about $3 million for the Workforce Grant, the state's Higher Education Department data show.

Colleges and universities can make up the difference with institutional scholarships, Powell said. Generally, private higher education institutions have more endowment-based scholarships, but some come from the school's budget, he said. Public institutions are usually the opposite, relying more on their own budgets, but with some endowed scholarships, he said.

Many times, such awards come after a student learns how much other financial aid, through the Pell grant or other sources, he will receive, Powell said.

At Hendrix, the financial aid will come from a $26 million gift announced earlier this year from the estate of Mary Ann Dawkins, an heir of the founders of Coulson Oil Co. Alumni and donors have also helped, Tsutsui said.

On Monday, leaders from the four new institutions thanked Tsutsui, Hendrix staff and the college's board of trustees.

Steve Straessle, the principal of Catholic High, said the partnerships were a unique way to feed the futures of central Arkansas children. The value of an education from a small liberal arts college cannot be understated, he added.

"We are thankful because we, as educators, understand some things," he said. "We understand that education is the seed of opportunity, and opportunity is the stem of the American dream. This is important because a partnership like this makes that stem more reliable, more strong, and it moves our kids closer to achieving the American dream."

Some 27 students from Central High went to Hendrix this fall, the high school's principal Nancy Rousseau said, adding that she appreciated Hendrix's creativity.

"Central High School is many cultures, one world," she said. "We have a lot of students who could get a great deal from a scholarship like this.

"Let's face it, if you have students in college right now, you know that the private institutions are anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 a year. That's an incredible sum. And to think that we would be able to send qualified students to a university as prestigious as Hendrix and graduate with a great education and very little or no debt, to me, that's just wonderful."

Tsutsui later said it was important for the scholarship recipients to have awards that go beyond tuition and fees.

"Because to a lot of students, textbooks, pocket money, money they need to go home for vacation, that makes a huge difference," he said. "In the big scheme of things, it's not a lot of money, but it's essential."

Metro on 10/06/2015