Utah County student draws attention to state college-bound scholarship inequities

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SALT LAKE CITY – Utah County’s Deputy Attorney Tim Taylor may have the persuasive speaking skills to convince jurors in Provo’s 4th District Court, but it was his daughter, Madison, who helped convince a legislative committee to change how state higher education handles an incentive scholarship program for college-bound students.

Utah County Deputy Attorney Tim Taylor talks about problems with the state’s Regents Scholarship as his daughter, Madison, and Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, look on during a hearing Jan. 12. Tim Taylor’s efforts helped reverse a decision for Madison Taylor’s scholarship after finding what he said was glitch in the scholarship policy that did not square with state law.

Tuesday morning in an Administrative Rules Review Committee’s meeting, the two Taylors addressed concerns about high school students who were denied the Utah Regents’ Scholarship despite stellar academic qualifications.

The Utah Regents’ Scholarship was started in 2008 by the Legislature as an incentive for students to apply themselves academically in high school in order to save financially for college. Each year, according to the Commissioner of Higher Education David L. Buhler, thousands of students apply for this scholarship that is merit-based and state-funded.

Madison Taylor began working towards the Regents’ Scholarship in 9th grade and maintained a high grade point average throughout the 17 semesters of Advanced Placement courses that she took. With the guidance and approval of her school counselor, she dropped an A.P. psychology course her senior year, believing that she had already fulfilled the scholarship’s required “3.5 social science credits.” Despite Taylor’s academic qualification she was denied the scholarship because of an administrative rule that was modified in 2011.

Madison Taylor reminded the lawmakers and the Higher Education representatives that these administrative barriers are, “harming students that go above and beyond.” She emphasized the need for action and the assurance that students who put in the time and effort will not be punished. Tim Taylor said he has discovered at least a dozen other students who may have been denied the scholarship because of high education’s policies.

Tim Taylor said that Madison was ultimately awarded the scholarship, but was one of many who were denied the Utah Regents’ Scholarship despite qualifying academically.Tim Taylor, using his knowledge of contracts, legal jargon and the state’s records law was able to get Madison’s scholarship decision reversed. He expressed his concern for the students that don’t have help from a trained attorney to take on Utah’s higher education bureaucracy.

“We at least hope going forward in the future that the roadblock won’t be there,” Tim Taylor said.

Sen. Mark B. Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, added his concerns: “This deserves conversation.” He reinforced his concern by remarking on the “poor job” that is often rendered on behalf of students.

“So often we are tripping up the best kids that have the best chance of cleaning up the mess that we live in,” Madsen said.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper and Senate Committee Chair, called Commissioner Buhler on the carpet, asking for more latitude for students who have been denied the scholarships in cases such as Madison Taylor’s. Stephenson asked Buhler to commit a policy and scholarship application rewrite. Buhler said that the changes weren’t likely to be considered until a Board of Regents meeting next spring.

Buhler commented on the opportunities that the Board of Regents offer scholarship applicants if they want to, “get clarification if there is any vagueness.” He acknowledged the administrative errors and the vague rules, which were pointed out by the State Attorney General’s office when they reviewed their statutes and found them to be unclear. Buhler offered his assurance that every effort would be made to make the rules and policies more transparent and agreed to report to the legislature in the spring on the changes made.

House Chair Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfiled, questioned the training the school counselors receive in order to prevent ill advisement, such as the advice given to Madison Taylor. He challenged Buhler to go further than just amending the misleading rule, but to create a system that prevents students who do the work from being denied in the first place.

 

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