Millennium Scholarship gets no new aid from Nevada lawmakers


CARSON CITY - No Nevada legislators stepped forward Thursday to support spending more on the Millennium Scholarship program to reduce the increasing college costs paid by students.

When the scholarship program began in 2000, its funds covered all of students' $2,400 in annual tuition and other fees, said Crystal Abba, a Nevada System of Higher Education vice chancellor. Today the funds pay $1,920, 29 percent of the $6,954 annual tuition and other fees, she told members of the Legislature's Interim Education Committee.

She noted legislators could make the scholarship more attractive to students by increasing what they pay for each college credit. When the scholarship began, there was an $80 charge per credit in the state universities and the scholarship paid it all. Now that charge is $171.

No member of the committee even responded to Abba's suggestion.

With the state in recession, legislators over the past two sessions have reduced funding for higher education and have had to find funds to keep the Millennium Scholarship solvent. Gov. Brian Sandoval has vowed not to make any additional cuts to education in 2013.

Abba released figures that showed 77 percent of eligible students activated their scholarships in 2000. But in 2011, with college costs much higher, only 51 percent did. Students qualify for the scholarship if they receive at least a 3.25 percent grade-point average in a Nevada high school.

Then-Gov. Kenny Guinn launched the scholarship as a way to help keep the brightest high school graduates in Nevada for college.

In response to questions from legislators, Abba and Chancellor Dan Klaich said the top graduating scholars are no longer as likely to remain in Nevada for college.

Steve George, the chief of staff in the state treasurer's office, said there are enough funds available to keep the scholarship at current funding levels for several more years. He said $271 million has been spent on the scholarships since the program's inception.

Funds come from a share of a settlement Nevada receives from the tobacco industry for tobacco-related illnesses and from unclaimed property funds.

Abba released figures that show more than 15,000 Millennium scholars have received bachelor's degrees and that they are more likely to remain in colleges and graduate than students who don't earn the scholarship.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.