CHEYENNE — The Hathaway Scholarship program to help eligible Wyoming students pay their college tuition is backed by a $500 million fund that has been growing faster than the amount of money being awarded to students, but lawmakers are being cautious in deciding whether to increase scholarship awards to keep pace with rising tuition.
"It's certainly not in trouble. It's doing just fine. But we want to be cautious moving forward that we're not going to decrease the corpus and overspend the account," said Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie and a member of the Senate Education Committee.
The Legislature, which ended earlier this month, rejected a proposal that would have increased the scholarship awards. Instead, the Joint Education Interim Committee has been assigned to study the scholarship program over the summer and fall. Issues the panel will look at include increasing the scholarship awards and reviewing eligibility requirements. In addition, a fiscal analysis of the scholarship fund will be done.
Rothfuss said the education committee will study whether the scholarship fund can remain financially sound into the future if the award is increased.
The Hathaway Scholarship is available to Wyoming residents who have attended colleges in the state since 2006. It offers four levels of scholarship awards. Freshmen students can receive up to $3,200 a year from the program, depending on their high school grades, test scores and high school curriculum. If they maintain good grades, they can keep receiving the scholarship through college.
The Legislature decided to create the scholarship fund in 2005 with an initial investment of about $400 million.
The fund has grown to $501 million even while paying out about $15 million a year to students, according to research by the state Legislative Service Office.
"We're still spending less money over the last few years than we're earning in revenue on the corpus," Rothfuss said.
But while the fund has grown, the individual dollar awards per semester have remained unchanged at $1,600 for the honors scholarship, $1,200 for the performance award and $800 each for the opportunity and provisional scholarships. At the same time, tuition at the University of Wyoming and the state's seven community colleges has increased, meaning the scholarship covers a shrinking percentage of tuition.
When the scholarship fund was created, it was decided that it should not be indexed to tuition or fee increases for fear that the fund would be depleted.