Legislators consider bill to boost Millennium Scholarship requirements

CARSON CITY — Community college students would have to carry more credit hours per semester to be eligible for Nevada’s Millennium Scholarship under two separate bills being floated in the Legislature.

Both are part of a new emphasis by the Nevada System of Higher Education called the “culture of completion” to get students to graduate on time. But some fear the higher credit load could make it tougher for poorer students who juggle work and school to earn a degree.

Assembly Bill 111, sponsored by Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, would increase the number of credits community college students must carry from six to nine beginning July 1. Required credits would jump to 12 in July 2016.

The bill before the Assembly Education Committee Wednesday also would allow university students to be reimbursed for more credits per semester. Right now they can receive not more than the cost of 12 credits per semester, for a total of $10,000 toward their education. The bill would keep the maximum total, but increase the reimbursable credit hours to 15 by 2017.

Constance Brooks, vice chancellor of Nevada’s higher education system, said ideally the system wants to create a need-based financial assistance program so that more students can attend college full time. But she concedes that without the financial aid component, the proposed scholarship restrictions could make it tougher for some students.

Brooks said a separate bill will seek to fund an aid program with $5 million, money that was not included in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $7.3 billion budget proposal.

University officials cited a report from the National Center for Education Statistics that showed students who attend college part time are less likely than full-time students to complete their studies and earn a degree.

At Nevada’s four-year institutions, 79 percent of first-time students who took less than 12 credits in 2004 failed to graduate, even within twice the normal length of time to earn a degree. The percentage was more staggering in 2008 for community college students, with more than 97 percent not graduating.

A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.

The Millennium Scholarship was established by then Gov. Kenny Guinn in 1999. It was initially financed by tobacco settlement funds, but over the years it has been supplemented by the state and unclaimed property money.

The scholarship is available to all Nevada high school graduates with a grade point average of 3.25 or better. In 2013, 10,534 students were eligible and roughly half activated the benefit. The state disbursed $23 million under the program that year, according to the state treasurer’s office.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb.