Cashing out

Mai Hoang

There will be winners when Tennessee begins its new state lottery in 2004.

But don’t count Western among those – even if no lottery tickets are ever bought by anyone on the Hill.

The lottery, which was approved by Gov. Phil Bredesen in June, will fund scholarships for students in the Volunteer State to attend an eligible Tennessee college or university.

These new scholarships may prevent some Tennessee students from starting their college career on the Hill next fall.

The lottery may also cause Kentucky students to miss out on scholarship opportunities.

Tennessee’s plan

Luther Hughes, assistant vice president for enrollment management, said there are about 1,200 Tennesseans currently enrolled at Western.

That’s 6.5 percent of the university’s enrollment, and about 300 of those students are freshmen or transfer students.

Beginning with high school seniors that graduate in 2004, any Tennessee resident who scores a 19 on the ACT or makes a 3.0 grade point average can receive $3,000 a year for tuition to Tennessee schools.

Tennessee residents who are college freshmen can also get the scholarship if they have a 2.75 GPA and 24 credit hours.

The program is similar to the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, which is also funded by a state lottery. Under KEES, a Kentucky student can receive a scholarship based on their high school grade point average and ACT score.

Looking at the price tag

Hughes said one strong incentive for Tennessee students to attend Western is its tuition cost, which is comparable to or less than prices for Tennessee schools.

Students from three Tennessee counties pay in-state tuition. Seventeen other counties are covered by the Tuition Incentive Program, which offers a discounted out-of-state rate.

Tuition and fees at Middle Tennessee State University for Tennessee students is $3,910 a year for most students – freshmen pay slightly more. University of Tennessee students pay $4,450 a year.

For students at Western in the TIP program, tuition and fees cost $4,446 a year.

“Our cost was very competitive,” Hughes said. “But with the $3,000 incentive to stay in Tennessee, that cost advantage is now negated.”

Hughes said Western will likely lose students because of the scholarships, but will use other tactics to lure Tennesseans to the Hill.

Hughes said the quality of Western’s programs and its close location will be selling points for many Tennessee students.

“We will intensify, just in different ways to emphasize the advantages Western has over other universities in Tennessee,” Hughes said.

Regardless, cost will still be a major factor in a student’s choice of college, said Donna Dixon, a guidance counselor at Portland High School in Portland, Tenn.

Portland is located about 30 miles south of Bowling Green. Three or four years ago, the last time she was senior class counselor, there were 51 students in all grade levels going to Western.

She said she currently knows of 40 students who are interested in spending their college years on the Hill.

But the lottery will lure more Portland High School graduates to Tennessee schools, she said.

“It’s the money factor, that is a big factor,” she said. “It will be a big factor for parents. If you can pay it here, why go down the road especially if you go to a similar institution?”

Recruiting

Hughes said Western is still trying to understand the details of the scholarship program in order to devise a recruiting strategy in response.

Amy Risley, an admissions counselor at Western who is in charge of recruiting students in Tennessee, said she’s looking into several new

recruiting tactics.

Those include increasing the number of visits to high schools, more interaction with Tennessee high school guidance counselors and bringing more prospective students to visit the campus.

“It’s just important to relate to these students that your college experience is so much more than about money,” she said. “If we can do our best to highlight the other things – we have a beautiful campus, nationally known programs and good athletics – the more likely they’ll take a step back and realize it’s more than about money.”

Tennessee schools are developing recruiting strategies to promote the scholarship. At MTSU, there is a task force meeting to determine how the new scholarship will fit in with the current financial aid programs they offer, said Sherian Huddleston, assistant vice provost for enrollment services. They are also looking into how they will market the scholarship program.

There is no set plan yet. But Huddleston said the focus on recruiting will be on border counties, where students can pay in-state tuition for both out-of-state and in-state schools.

MTSU is also trying to get the message out to current college freshman who will be eligible for the scholarship as sophomores.

“If they know they can stay home and get $3,000, I think they will reconsider going out of state for school,” she said.

Diversity

If recruiting efforts still don’t lure more students to Western, its likely that admissions could reduce their efforts in Tennessee, Hughes said.

Instead, it would focus on other areas – such as recent counties in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri – that were added to TIP last year, he said. Preliminary numbers show that more students from those counties are choosing Western, despite little recruiting effort.

“We’re going to continue to have more students from outside of Kentucky regardless of what happens in Tennessee,” Hughes said. “That’s not going to cause us to waiver at all to the component of diversity of out of state students.”

KEES could be affected

The Volunteer State’s venture into gambling may not only impact Tennessee students’ scholarships, but also those of their northern neighbors.

About 6 percent of the revenue from the Kentucky lottery comes from Tennessee residents, said Sara Westerman, a communications director for the Kentucky lottery.

The state lottery funds KEES.

Preliminary figures show the formation of a state lottery in Tennessee could result in a $70 million loss of revenue over the next three fiscal years.

Westerman said they are trying several ways to make up for lost customers – including marketing in hopes that they will continue to play in Kentucky and to expand their lottery system in state.

But the Kentucky Lottery Corp. can’t make any changes until they get approval from the General Assembly.

Joe McCormick, executive director of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, said the loss of lottery revenue will have an impact on funding the KEES program.

The program is currently funded by $70 million in lottery revenue, McCormick said.

In the 2002-2003 school year, 5,523 Western students had KEES scholarships totaling $5,928,436, said Marilyn Clark, director of Student Financial Assistance.

She expects about 6,000 students to earn KEES scholarships this year.

If not enough money is raised from the lottery to pay for KEES, the Council on Post-Secondary Education has the authority to reduce scholarship amounts, McCormick said. That could affect both current students and incoming freshmen.

Students like Logan Hudspeth depend on KEES to pay their tuition and fees.

Hudspeth, an Alvaton sophomore, said that all but $500 of his semester’s tuition is paid for by KEES.

“I really like to have KEES money so I don’t have a huge debt in my checking account,” he said.

KEES pays for all of Bowling Green junior Ronnie Leeper’s, tuition so he doesn’t have to spend too much time working as a server at O’Charley’s.

“I would rather have more time to study for my classes,” he said. “It makes school go a lot easier if I don’t have to work as much.”

But those in Frankfort will likely look into other revenue options before they cut KEES scholarships, McCormick said. Possible sources of revenue could come from tax increases or an expansion of the lottery system.

“The needs of students is continuing to go up,” he said. “The state needs to address how to generate sufficient revenue to pay for the services they offer for citizens.”

Reach Mai Hoang at [email protected]