State cutting back on scholarship program after disappointing results

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AUGUSTA (WGME) - Changes are coming to a controversial and expensive state scholarship program after a CBS 13 Waste Watch investigation.

We found the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program delivering disappointing results. Last November, we asked to see all the numbers associated with the cost of this tuition and support program. We found during the past three years, it's cost more than $6.5 million. We learned even with intense support services for things like books and tuition - all the way down to car repairs and eye care - more than 40% of the people in the program never graduate.

"We were concerned that not enough people were completing the program," Julie Rabinowitz with the Dept. of Labor said.

With that in mind, the Dept. of Labor put its Competitive Skills Scholarship Program under the review microscope. The program launched in 2007 with the state picking up the tab for tuition and a wide range of support services: fees, childcare, a computer, and transportation. The goal is to help low-income Mainers get a degree and a high paying job.

Now people in the program will have a new set of rules to follow in hopes of making the program more successful. One problem the Department identified is that the program gave students eight years to finish a four year degree.

"Life happens in 8 years," program manager Joan Dolan said.

And as life happens, too many students dropped out. So now, program participants will be required to have a stronger focus and complete a bachelor's degree in six years and an associate's degree in three.

"We're thinking more people will be able to complete their goal," Dolan said.

Benefits are also being scaled back. The maximum amount spent per student will be cut from $8,000 to $6,000 a year. Coverage for car repairs and insurance, as well as eye and dental care, will also be reduced. Transportation will still be reimbursed but capped at 250 miles a week.

"These are people who are really poor who can't afford to travel to school; they don't have the money to put the gas in the car to get to school so we're still providing some of those support service costs," Dolan explained.

The Department says by cutting costs, the program will be able to increase enrollment and improve results. Program managers are also promising a more thorough review of applications.

If you're interested in learning more about how the scholarship program works, CLICK HERE.  Applications will be accepted between June 23 and July 3, 2014. We're told the program can fund about 400 participants.State cutting back on scholarship program after disappointing results
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