Millennium Scholarship college program helping affluent families more than underserved

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LAS VEGAS - Families in Southern Nevada's more affluent neighborhoods have been the biggest winners in a new college aid program touted in part as a blessing for the underserved.

Records show most of the students eligible for Millennium Scholarships graduated from high schools serving Henderson's Green Valley and the Las Vegas Valley's southwest and northwest corners - neighborhoods with families that have paid in the past to send students to Nevada's public universities.

Magnet academies and programs, which pull some of the valley's brightest high school students into academically enriched settings in poorer neighborhoods, also produced high percentages of millennium scholars.

The numbers of class of 2000 qualifiers were smaller for high schools in more ethnically diverse central valley high schools such as Rancho and Western, where drop-out rates are high and fewer students traditionally go on to college.

Records from the state's Millennium Scholarship office and the Clark County School District show about 54 percent of Green Valley High School's 673 graduates and 87 percent of Advanced Technologies Academy's 156 graduates qualified for the program.

By contrast, 30 percent of Rancho's 270 graduates and 38 percent of Western's 258 graduates were eligible in the first year.

The program offers up to $10,000 in financial aid to Nevada high school graduates with grade point averages of B or better. The money comes from the state's share of the multibillion-dollar 1998 national legal settlement with cigarette makers.

The class of 2000 was the first group of graduates eligible for the scholarships, which were proposed by Gov. Kenny Guinn and approved by the 1999 Legislature.

With the exception of rural campuses, the majority of qualifying graduates from Clark County high schools sent back letters to the Millennium Scholarship office saying they intended to cash in on the program at some point during the next eight years.

Statewide, about 60 percent of 7,200 qualifying graduates are currently enrolled in classes at Nevada's two public universities and four colleges as millennium scholars. Those 4,200 college freshmen will complete their first semester in December and find out whether their grades are good enough to keep the award.

Sue Bozarth, UNLV's director of admissions, said Wednesday the benefit of the Millennium Scholarship program for graduates of high schools in poorer neighborhoods may be small in size, but it is certainly significant to those who received the financial aid.

''Thirty-two from the class of 2000 enrolled from Western,'' Bozarth said about this year's UNLV freshman class. ''It was 13 for the class of '99.''

Bozarth made a similar comparison for Rancho: 15 UNLV freshmen are from Rancho this fall, compared with eight in fall 1999.

Jane Kadoich, director of guidance and counseling for the Clark County School District, said the first year of the Millennium Scholarship did not translate into steep increases in the percentage of students going on to college or in the numbers of college-bound students from schools that traditionally do not send many graduates to college.

''We're still running at about not quite 50 percent'' Kadoich said about the district's overall college continuation rate. ''That was about the same as last year.''

Kadoich said she expects greater gains within two or three years, after the Millennium Scholarship becomes more familiar.

When the idea of the Millennium Scholarship was introduced by Guinn, a Republican, in January 1999, the governor said it was a chance to do something heroic.

Critics said they feared the program would end up paying for classes that most parents and students were already willing to pay for. Democrats proposed keeping the scholarship from wealthy families.

Guinn was unavailable for comment.


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