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University limits merit scholarships

Administrators will decide how many scholarships to award.

Temple’s merit scholarship program, which in three years drew thousands of coveted, high-scoring students to the university, will be scaled back after administrators determined the program was not financially sustainable.

Starting with students enrolling as freshmen in Fall 2017, the program will no longer be marketed as extensively, and the university will cap the number of merit scholarships given out each year, Chief Financial Officer Ken Kaiser said last week.

The scholarships were first given out to freshmen enrolling in Fall 2013, if they reached certain standardized test scores and high school GPAs. Students were guaranteed one of five tiers of scholarships that ranged from a few thousand tuition dollars to full tuition.

The required scores and GPAs were printed on flyers and handed out at college fairs, as well as posted on Temple’s website. In 2015, the full-tuition President’s Scholar award was given to all students with a high school GPA of 3.8 or greater, along with SAT critical reading and math scores totaling 1420 or higher.  An ACT of 32 or higher was also accepted for that award. The score thresholds increased each year as more students qualified for the program.

Scholarship information for future prospective students will be reworded so that the university does not overcommit to giving out aid, Kaiser said.

“I know the news of our budget overrun in scholarships was a cause of concern this summer,” Acting President Richard Englert said during the annual State of the University Address in Mitten Hall last week.

“We will not, moving forward, put out a very detailed program that you could look up and determine what [scholarship] you’re going to get,” he said. “In the end, that was the problem. If you take it to the extreme, what if the entire incoming class, all 5,000 incoming freshmen, had 1440 SATs with a 3.8 [GPA]? … They all would have been here for free. Temple would have been in a very difficult financial situation, having no tuition revenue.”

Administrators in the Office of the Provost and the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment are analyzing data to determine how many of each scholarship — President’s, Provost’s, Dean’s, Founder’s and University — to give out to the next freshman class.

An added complication for this year is the new format for the SAT: guessing is no longer penalized, and multiple choice questions have four possible answers instead of five. Scores for the test will likely inflate.

Instead of deciding before students apply, administrators will wait to see the likely makeup of the freshman class before deciding how many of each scholarship to award.

“It’s going to depend on when you apply, how many applications we get,” Kaiser said.

The merit scholarship program was central to administrative upheaval this summer. In July, the Board of Trustees voted no confidence in President Neil Theobald, saying that he did not tell the Board about a deficit in the program and allowed it to grow to $22 million.

To make up for the deficit, administrative offices were asked to cut their budgets by a certain amount rather than raise tuition to make up the difference.

“The issue in this budget, ultimately, was the $22 million,” Kaiser said. “But it wasn’t that the money was misappropriated or ‘Oh my gosh, we don’t know where it went,’ or you look around and every dean and administrator is driving a new Lexus. … In a way, it was an unexpected discount that students got to enjoy.”

Joe Brandt can be reached at editor@temple-news.com.

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