The Wyoming Legislature’s joint education committee will draft a bill to increase Hathaway Scholarship awards by 5%, members unanimously voted Tuesday. If successful, it would be the second time the award amounts have increased since the scholarship was created in 2006.
The merit-based scholarship program pays a portion of Wyoming students’ tuition and fees at any of the seven community colleges or the University of Wyoming.
Historically, students receiving the top level scholarships have been able to cover the entirety of their community college tuition, or the bulk of University of Wyoming costs. But tuition increases and general economic inflation mean those awards aren’t worth as much as they used to be.
For example, the highest award amount in 2006 covered 91% of a University of Wyoming student’s tuition and fees and more than 160% of those costs for community college students.
Now it covers just over 50% of UW costs and less than 80% of community college costs.
In the last 15 years, tuition at the University of Wyoming has increased 90%. It’s risen upwards of 150% at each of the community colleges, according to state data.
Committee member Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, is a longtime advocate for the Hathaway scholarship and has attempted to increase the awards through legislation in the past. In 2013, he sponsored a bill to increase the awards by 5%. That bill failed, but the next year the education committee backed an identical proposal, which did pass into law.
Harshman tried again in 2019, this time proposing a 4.8% increase. The bill failed.
But he’s optimistic that his colleagues will see the need to keep up with rising education costs.
“I think it was pretty well received in the committee,” he said.
There are four tiers of scholarships students can earn depending on grade point average, what courses they’ve taken and how they perform on standardized tests. The scholarship enrolled just under 2,400 students in its most recent year, ranging in awards from $840 to $1,680 per semester.
A 5% boost would mean the lowest award amount of $840 per semester would increase to roughly $880, the second highest award of $1,260 would become $1,320 and the top award of $1,680 would grow to about $1,760. The formal bill has not been drafted yet, however, so these amounts may change.
In addition to the award amounts, committee members hope the bill will address a reputation problem.
The fund that pays for these scholarships is as healthy as ever, Harshman said. The program was created in 2006, and by 2009, the endowment had reached $405 million. Now, it’s on pace to reach $700 million.
But some people are under the impression that the scholarship is running out of money — a confusion that came up several times during debates during the most recent legislative session.
“It’s really a timing issue,” Harshman explained.
The Hathaway fund pays the various high education institutions the full award amounts for each of their students in August, but the fund doesn’t realize its investment earnings until September.
Meaning every year, the fund has had to draw from it’s reserve account to pay the scholarships before being refilled by healthy investment earnings, giving the impression that they’re running out of money.
The draft bill will seek to clarify the timing of those payments, but Harshman said how they’ll do that is still up for debate.
The joint education committee is scheduled to meet at least three more times before the legislature reconvenes in February and may retool the proposal between now and then.
Follow health and education reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @m0rgan_hughes