Distinguished Scholar academic aid program survives

By Nick DiMarco

A popular scholarship program designed to keep Maryland’s top high school students in state for college has survived Gov. Martin O’Malley’s attempt to suspend the program next year.

With little debate, the budget committees in both House and Senate rejected the governor’s cut, which would have saved $4.4 million over the next four years.

The Distinguished Scholar Program awards $3,000 for college to 350 of the state’s highest achieving seniors in academics and the arts each year, offering up $12,000 over four years if they attend to a Maryland college or university.

http://www.mhec.state.md.us/financialaid/COARenewal/2009-2010/09DSFAQ.pdf (The Distinguished Scholar Award)

The governor proposed cutting the program for the 2010-2011 academic year. No students could enter the program, but it would be brought back in following years.

High school guidance counselors called the program invaluable.

That’s true “especially in these times, when students are having a tough time trying to figure out how they’re going to pay for a four-year university anyway,” said Donna Euckermann, a guidance counselor at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia.

The program’s goal of keeping top talent in Maryland is not lost on the students who have won the scholarship.

Towson University junior Sarah Kutzberger said the money she received from her Distinguished Scholar award was the primary reason she decided to go to a Maryland school. Family financial setbacks made it more difficult to financially support her when applying to colleges.

“It was really exciting and I didn’t realize how prestigious it was until I found out who did not get the award,” Kutzberger said, remembering how it felt when she was announced a winner. “My mom cried when I got the letter in the mail. She was the proudest mom in the whole world.”

Counselor Euckermann said that recognition motivates her to push students to apply for the award based on either merit in academics or the arts. She especially likes the special provision for the arts because those students typically do not perform as well academically.

“It’s wonderful because some of these kids are not recognized any other way,” Euckerman said. “They’re good kids. They’re decent students and they have wonderful talent. I’m very much a fan of it.”

Students applying for the award based on academic achievement are judged based on unweighted grade point average and standardized testing. Those who apply in the arts category must audition in front of a panel of experts in their respective fields, such as dance, drama, music or visual arts.

Last year, 4,976 students applied for the academic scholarships, while 697 students competed for an arts scholarship, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/mdmanual/25ind/highered/html/43high.html (MHEC)

At Centennial High School, where the percentage of students who go on to four-year colleges is the highest in Howard County, 44 students submitted Distinguished Scholar applications this year.

“It’s an excellent program in that it encourages students to strive to work hard in years prior to their junior and working better to afford that opportunity,” said Centennial guidance counselor Yvonne Gordon.

Amber Abbott, a senior from Salisbury at the University of Maryland College Park, said winning the award allowed her to participate in extra curricular activities instead of working her way through college.

“I feel like I’ve gotten the whole college experience,” she said. “It eased my parents’ mind a little bit for sending me off to college.”

Abbott is a music education major who aspires to become a band director. Enrolled in the University’s Honor’s College, she currently participates in both the marching and pep bands at College Park, and is also president of her sorority.

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