PA 16-179—sHB 5332

Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING THE GOVERNOR'S SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM

SUMMARY: This act makes numerous changes to the Governor's Scholarship Program (renamed by the act as the Roberta B. Willis Scholarship Program), the state's financial aid program for Connecticut residents who attend a public or independent higher education institution in the state.

Under prior law, the program had four award categories: a (1) need and merit-based (i. e. , merit) award, (2) need-based award, (3) performance incentive pool, and (4) Charter Oak Grant. The act eliminates the incentive award and makes the following additional changes, among others:

1. establishes a maximum award amount for the need award and requires that the maximum amount for part-time students be proportional to the maximum amount for full-time students;

2. eliminates requirements that need awards be made according to sliding scales annually determined by the Office of Higher Education (OHE), which administers the scholarship program;

3. revises the criteria for determining how funds for need awards are allocated among higher education institutions;

4. prohibits OHE from making merit award determinations based on the order of institutions a student provides on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid);

5. earmarks 2. 5% of the program's appropriation for the community-technical colleges to use for financial aid purposes;

6. caps the percentage of the program's appropriation that may be allocated to the merit award; and

7. modifies the program's compliance requirements and extends, from February 15 until May 1, the annual deadline by which higher education institutions must return unspent scholarship funds to OHE.

The act also makes technical and conforming changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2016

NEED AWARD

The act eliminates a provision in prior law that required institutions to make need awards according to a sliding scale annually determined by OHE (i. e. , fixed amounts that were inversely proportional to the student's expected family contribution (EFC), as determined by the FAFSA). It instead allows institutions to award each eligible (1) full-time student up to $4,500 per year and (2) part-time student an amount up to a prorated maximum (see Awards to Part-Time Students below). Prior law did not specify any award amounts, but, in practice, OHE established $3,000 per year as the maximum need award for full-time students.

Institutional Allocations

Under prior law, OHE had to allocate funding for need awards to higher education institutions based on their eligible enrollment (i. e. , the number of the institution's students eligible for an award based on their EFC amounts) during the fiscal year preceding the award year. The act instead requires OHE to use each institution's eligible full-time equivalent enrollment of undergraduate Connecticut residents during the fall semester of the fiscal year two years before the grant year.

Under the act, eligible students are those whose EFC is up to 200% of the maximum eligible EFC for the federal Pell Grant for the academic year one year before the grant year. For the 2016-17 academic year, 200% of the maximum Pell-eligible EFC is $10,468. Prior law did not establish a maximum EFC for program eligibility, but, in practice, OHE established (1) $10,999 as the maximum EFC for full-time students and (2) $7,999 as the maximum EFC for part-time students.

The act requires higher education institutions to report enrollment data to OHE annually by July 1. OHE must, annually by October 1, (1) publish the enrollment data on its website, (2) notify each institution of the proportion of the appropriation that the institution will receive in the ensuing fiscal year, and (3) publish these proportions on its website.

Awards to Part-Time Students

By law, part-time students are eligible for a need award from the program if they carry at least six credits in each semester. The act establishes maximum need award amounts for part-time students that are proportional to the maximum amount for full-time students. The maximum part-time amounts are (1) 50% for at least six but fewer than nine credits and (2) 75% for at least nine but fewer than 12 credits. Prior law did not prescribe criteria for determining award amounts to part-time students.

MERIT AWARD

The act prohibits OHE from making merit award determinations based on the order of institutions provided by a student on the FAFSA. In practice, students may list on the FAFSA up to 10 institutions that they are considering attending.

INCENTIVE AWARD

The act eliminates the program's incentive award, which under prior law was provided to encourage retention and completion for students who (1) received a need award, (2) returned with sufficient credits to complete an associate degree in two years or a bachelor degree in four years, and (3) exceeded minimum academic performance standards as determined by OHE.

ALLOCATION OF ANNUAL APPROPRIATION

Prior law allocated the program's appropriation across the four award categories as follows: (1) at least 20% for the merit award, (2) up to 80% for the need award, (3) at least 2. 5% for the incentive pool, and (4) at least $100,000 for the Charter Oak Grant. The act (1) caps the merit award allocation at 30% of the program appropriation and (2) eliminates the allocation for the incentive pool and instead allocates 2. 5% of the program's appropriation to the state's community-technical colleges for financial aid purposes. It specifies that this allocation is in addition to the amount allocated to the colleges for merit and need awards.

COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENTS

By law, institutions participating in the scholarship program must biennially submit to OHE the results of an audit completed by an independent certified public accountant for each year of program participation. The act specifies that OHE itself must conduct compliance reviews of the participating institutions, rather than compliance audits as required by prior law. It similarly specifies that institutions' records that substantiate the reported number of Connecticut students and documentation used to determine student eligibility are subject to audit or review. (Under prior law, the records were subject only to audit. )

OLR Tracking: TA; JO; PF; bs