Legislature Should View “EARN” Scholarship with Caution

Responding to Governor Mike Easley’s plan to provide tuition-free college for two years, Shannon Blosser of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy said, “The legislature should view this program very cautiously. It could create an expensive entitlement for students that will put heavy burdens on taxpayers.”

“It seems to be more of an effort by the governor to leave an education legacy than a sound program for students and taxpayers,” said Blosser. “Most of the students who will benefit will be students who have already been planning to go to college – and preparing for it academically and financially.”

Governor Easley’s “EARN” initiative (Education Access Rewards North Carolina) would allocate $150 million over the next two fiscal years to cover scholarships in the University of North Carolina system. The scholarships, at $4,000 per year, would cover two years of college. They would dovetail into the existing Learn and Earn program, which allows high school students to attend a community college while still in high school and complete an associate’s degree in one year after high school at no charge.

The governor’s proposed two-year scholarship would go to students from families who earn 200 per cent (or less) of the federal poverty level. Students will only be obligated to work for 10 hours a week while receiving the scholarship. According to state budget documents, 25,000 students are likely to benefit.

“The governor says that the scholarships along with the Learn and Earn program will allow a student in the Learn and Earn program to complete college in the UNC system ‘debt-free.’ But the taxpayers who are supporting these students are not likely to get away debt-free,” said Blosser.

“Furthermore, given the increased earning power that is provided by a UNC college degree, isn’t it fair to expect the student to take on some responsibility for paying for college education, even if it means taking on some debt? Many taxpayers who did not go to college – and thus do not have as high earning power as these students will — are already contributing to students’ education by paying taxes for the university system.”

Shannon Blosser is manager of the Chapel Hill office of the J.W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.