Tuition aid may be linked to MCAS

By Jenna Russell and Anand Vaishnav
Globe Staff / January 16, 2004

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In announcing a new scholarship program, Governor Mitt Romney is attempting to tackle one of the big expenses of college -- but not the only one.

Called the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship Program, Romney's plan would offer the top 25 percent of MCAS scorers four years tuition-free at any University of Massachusetts campus, state, or community college. The top 10 percent would also be eligible for $2,000 more from the state to help cover fees.

Based on the number of high school students who took the MCAS last year, about 16,000 would qualify for free tuition, and 6,500 would also be offered the fee assistance. The program would cost $50 million by its fourth year, Romney said. Students would have to graduate in four years and maintain good grades.

But for most of the students, the bulk of their costs would not be covered. Tuition has been frozen for years on state campuses, while fees have skyrocketed. This year at UMass Amherst, tuition is $857 per semester, while fees are $3,634. Fees are also much larger than tuition on state college campuses; at Bridgewater State College this year, tuition is $910, while fees are $2,777.

"It's a step in the right direction, but I don't think $900 is going to be enough to sway students," said David Carr, student government president at UMass-Amherst.

Because of the way the proposal is structured, it could end up helping students who do not need financial assistance, critics point out. Romney aims to help 25 percent of all MCAS test takers across the board -- meaning that students in wealthier towns, which generally have higher test scores, would have a better shot at the money. Other states with similar programs have targeted a set percentage of test takers in each school, to be more equitable. "What this will do, because of the well-known relationship between test scores and community wealth, is take state tax money and give it to the richest kids in the Commonwealth," said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for Cambridge-based FairTest, which opposes MCAS. "Test scores are not merit."

UMass-Amherst offers a free ride to the two top-ranking students in every graduating high school class in the state, and awards about 100 $8,000 scholarships across its five-campus system each year to other high-achieving graduates, based on grades and SAT scores. "We applaud the idea of rewarding high-achieving students," Robert Connolly, a UMass spokesman, said of Romney's plan.

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