Students just finishing the eighth, ninth or
10th grade have only a few weeks left this year to enroll in one
of the most successful and talked-about state scholarship programs
to come down the pike in a long time, a program that has already
helped thousands of Oklahoma students fulfill their dreams of going
Until the end of the June, students can sign up for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP), a scholarship program that awards free college tuition to high school students from families whose income is no more than $50,000. The scholarship is good for up to five years to any public college or university in the state. It will also cover a portion of the tuition at an accredited private institution or for select courses at career technology centers.
“This program is a terrific incentive for students who have a real desire to attend college,” Chancellor Hans Brisch said. “Already, we are seeing the positive effects it has had on students’ academics and character. It would be a real shame if a student missed this opportunity to sign up this year for this wonderful program and miss out on free tuition.”
The Oklahoma Legislature created OHLAP in 1992 to help middle and high school students, who have demonstrated a commitment to academic success, with their college expenses.
To earn an OHLAP scholarship, students must sign up for the program in the eighth-, ninth- or 10th-grade. They must also attend class regularly and complete homework assignments, complete a 17-unit curriculum and pass those courses with at least a 2.5 grade point average. Students must also agree to stay out of serious trouble and avoid drugs and alcohol. Since its inception, more than 26,000 students have enrolled in the program. An estimated 2,800 students will receive OHLAP scholarships next fall, and that number is expected to grow by approximately 10,000 students by 2008.
Officials earlier this year worried that there wouldn’t be enough state funds to cover the costs of the program for next year and beyond because of the state’s budget crisis. At the end of the 2002 session, the state Legislature passed higher education’s appropriations bill, which included an extra $2.8 million to fund OHLAP scholarships for another year. Gov. Frank Keating signed the bill earlier this week.
Another bill that Keating signed this legislative session is House Bill 1440, designed to help keep state-sponsored scholarship programs like OHLAP up and running. The bill repealed the Oklahoma Tuition Scholarship Program (OTSP), a merit-based scholarship program established by lawmakers in 1999 that was scheduled to start in 2003. Officials projected the new program would have cost Oklahoma taxpayers $2.5 million its first year and $5 million in succeeding years.
A task force created by the Legislature in 2001 recommended repealing the OTSP, believing that it would deplete scarce state appropriations for other existing scholarship programs, such as OHLAP, and not produce many more college graduates in the state.
“The Legislature and the governor have demonstrated their commitment to Oklahoma students by providing the necessary resources to keep the state’s scholarship programs on solid footing,” State Regents’ Chairman Joe Mayer said. “We appreciate them focusing on this very important issue, particularly during a year when resources were so limited.” For more information on OHLAP, please call 1-800-858-1840 or visit the Oklahoma higher education Web site at www.okhighered.org.
The U.S. Department of Education awarded Oklahoma with a state GEAR UP grant totaling $20.5 million in August 1999. The grant has been matched by more than $25 million from state and partner resources. With funds totaling $45.5 million, GEAR UP receives 45 percent of total funding from the federal government and 55 percent from other organizations.