October 14, 2013

New Wichita State scholarship program aims to boost enrollment

Hundreds more new students at Wichita State University will be eligible for scholarship money because of a new program announced Monday, WSU president John Bardo said.

Hundreds more new students at Wichita State University will be eligible for scholarship money because of a new program announced Monday, WSU president John Bardo said.

A new merit scholarship program is the latest in a series of moves designed by the WSU president to try to increase the student body from fewer than 15,000 to more than 22,000, the president said.

Bardo has redesigned how to dole out about $2 million in merit scholarship money annually. He announced changes in a news conference Monday at WSU but had already outlined his ideas in an interview with The Eagle before the announcement.

WSU will become more assertive about offering scholarship money and offering scholarships earlier and to a larger number of prospective students, Bardo said. “The purpose here is to engage a lot more with a lot of bright students and help persuade them to come here,” he said.

About 670 prospective students were offered scholarships on Monday, said Bardo and financial aid director Deb Byers, who wrote much of the plan.

The new plan for prospective freshmen is the part of an overall strategy that affects the most people. There also is a new “honors college” scholarship, which could provide up to $1,000 more every year in scholarship money if those in the program meet academic standards. There is a new plan for national merit scholars, offering up to $48,000 for four years. And there is a new plan for transfer students: Those who qualify could receive scholarship money for three rather than two years.

Folded into this new plan was WSU’s Dean’s Scholars program, which WSU had touted as innovative since its creation in 2007. That program aimed to persuade many bright Sedgwick County high school students to go to WSU instead of elsewhere. Dean’s Scholars winners, if they met the academic standards, could get scholarships ranging from $4,000 up to full tuition, books and room and board for a school year, and possibly more later.

Bardo, in his interview, said that program was as good as everyone said it was and probably kept many students in Wichita. Christine Schneikart-Lubbe, the WSU associate vice president for student engagement who created the program, said 78 percent of the original class of Dean’s Scholars still live in Wichita.

The key drawback was that it was designed to keep 45 or so local students in Sedgwick County every year. Bardo is now trying to attract many more. He decided to free up money to do that, he said.

The type of new students who qualified for that program are still eligible for scholarships under the new plan, Byers said. And Bardo estimated that when the program gets going, more than 60 percent of the people offered scholarships will be Sedgwick County residents.

All currently enrolled scholarship recipients who received awards under the former programs will continue to receive those awards under the guidelines in place with that program, Byers said.

“Our interest is in making sure we keep the best and brightest people in Wichita so that they become part of the long-term workforce,” Bardo said at his news conference. “This new plan also allows us to recruit bright new people from out of state who we can help become part of the community.”

The scholarships for the new freshman merit program will have awards of between $4,000 to $12,000 over four years, and that begins with the 2014-15 academic year, Bardo said at his news conference. These scholarships will be renewable year by year, depending on how the students perform academically.

Under the older system, new incoming students were required to complete a separate scholarship application in addition to being admitted to WSU, Byers said. The review of scholarship applications began after that and could continue for months.

That process was too slow, Bardo said. WSU should be more assertive in offering qualified students money “and letting students know that we really want them,” Bardo said in the interview.

Qualifications will be evaluated faster. “With the new scholarship program, students should know within days or a couple of weeks of being admitted to WSU what they can expect to receive,” Byers said. Students will automatically be included for scholarship consideration once they are admitted; they will be evaluated based on a composite of their high school grade point average, national test score (ACT or SAT) and high school class rank, Byers said. Many students accepted for scholarships now, Byers said, “would have been eliminated in the former model.”

“All scholarship awards in the new merit program are renewable for an additional three years of undergraduate study, as long as the student meets the renewal criteria,” Byers said.

The changes announced on Monday will not affect privately endowed college scholarships such as the Gore and the Barton scholarships, Bardo said.

Since taking over at WSU last year, Bardo has made several coordinated moves to boost enrollment to increase revenue for WSU. That will help WSU deal with what has become a yearly round of budget cuts by Kansas legislators, and it will help reduce the need for tuition increases, he said.

To increase the student population, Bardo started construction of a campus residence hall. He’s invested $700,000 in student recruitment, not only from states where in-state tuition and enrollment caps have increased but also in Kansas, where he thinks WSU could make gains.

The university has posted a site to help answer questions about the new plan:

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