Utah House Passes Bill for Scholarships for Underprivileged Students


Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The Utah State Capitol | The Daily Utah Chronicle archives

By Mandi Johansen


On Feb. 21, 2019, the Utah House of Representatives passed HB 260. The bill passed with a vote of 69-3. It creates the Access Utah Promise Scholarship program and was sponsored by Rep. Derrin R. Owens (R) of District 58, Fountain Green, Utah.

The bill ensures that students of limited means would not need to pay any tuition or fees for four semesters to attend any state institution. This includes state colleges, universities and technical colleges and both U-Tech and Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) institutions. It will help the underrepresented population of students in Utah “with a very drop-dead simple application process,” according to Rep. Owens. It is based on one’s ability to pay for college and will be available to students entering college as well as adults returning to school with less than an associate’s degree.

Originally it was planned that the bill would phase out the state-funded and merit-based Regents’ scholarship and use the funding from that to finance the new initiative. State representatives voted to amend that part of the legislation before the bill was passed. There was initial disagreement about how the bill would be funded, but representatives finally came to the agreement that state merit scholarships would still be in place and funds would also be allocated to the Access Utah Promise Scholarship program.

The bill is based on initiatives at Weber State University and Salt Lake Community College that cover the cost of tuition for low-income students who take classes full time. “If we can get them in the door, there is a graduation rate of almost 70%,” Rep. Owens remarked on the House floor.

In a public letter in support of HB 260 released on Feb. 11, Utah’s public college and university presidents and the Commissioner of Higher Education wrote, “A college education has never been more critical to the economic success of an individual — and our state. We need to increase the pipeline of students coming to college, both recent high school graduates and adults, to continue Utah’s upward trajectory. One key way to expand the pipeline is to reach those Utahns who wouldn’t otherwise attend college.”

Rep Owens pointed out, “Utah has one of the lowest rates of which a ninth grader is likely to get a postsecondary degree.” He continued by stating “Utah ranks 49th in the nation in needs-based access to financial assistance” which he thought was unusual because Utahns are, in his opinion, “the most giving people on the planet.”

The conclusion of the public letter stated, “HB 260 will help ensure we have the educated population we need to continue our state’s prosperity.”

Rep. Owens hopes that by passing the bill and giving more of Utah’s population access to education despite financial constraints, it will help to reduce the generational cycle of poverty and reduce their dependence on the state. He remarked, “We can move thousands of current and future families towards becoming self-reliant … They simply cannot do it without education.”

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