CHEYENNE — A bill that would increase the amount of money college students can receive through the state Hathaway scholarship has been endorsed by the Senate Education Committee.
The bill, which was unanimously approved by the panel Wednesday, now goes to the Senate floor for debate. It has already passed the House.
House Bill 166 would increase all Hathaway scholarship awards by 5 percent. Thousands of resident students have received money through the program, which is now in its seventh year, to help them pay for tuition and fees at the University of Wyoming and the state's seven community colleges.
Currently, eligible students can receive up to $1,600 per semester in scholarship money, depending on their academic achievement.
Since 2006-07 the amount of UW tuition and fees covered by the top tier honors scholarship has decreased from 91 percent to 78 percent.
Rep. Steve Harshman, the bill's sponsor, said college tuition and fees have increased since the scholarship was started but the scholarship awards have remained static.
He noted that since 2006-07 the amount of UW tuition and fees covered by the highest scholarship award in the program has decreased from 91 percent to 78 percent.
"We never really designed this Hathaway scholarship to be indexed to tuition and fees or any other measure," Harshman, R-Casper, said.
The 5 percent increase his bill proposes is a conservative increase to help cover some of the rising college costs, he said.
Mike Massie, special assistant to the UW president, added that the cost of living in Laramie has risen some 20 percent over the last half dozen years.
The scholarship, which cannot be used for out-of-state colleges, is a big incentive for UW to attract students, especially those with high academics, Massie said.
"When they take a look at the expense of going out of state versus what they can get at the University of Wyoming, a lot more of them are coming to UW," he said. "And when we get more of the best and the brightest coming to the University of Wyoming that is water that raises all boats. It's good for everybody from the faculty in attracting them as well as for the other students to be around that kind of competition."
Estimates are that the 5 percent increase would cost the scholarship fund about $747,000 more in fiscal year 2014. However, Harshman said the fund currently holds about $501 million.