The Senate Finance Committee voted Thursday to make the Millennium Scholarship harder to keep and harder to use.
The biggest changes limit the scholarship to12 credits per semester and require students to maintain a 3.0 grade-point average in their junior and senior year.
The 12-credit limit means Millennium Scholars will have to pay hundreds of dollars if they want to graduate in four years, because that requires an average of 16 credits per semester. Existing rules allow them reimbursement for all credits they take.
Per-credit costs at the University of Nevada will rise to $102 next fall, and the scholarship covers $80 per credit, which leaves students a bill of $264 for the first 12 credits. The remaining four credits would cost another $408 out of pocket, for a total of $672 before student fees and other charges imposed by the campuses are added - nearly $200 more.
It also means unless the student attends classes through the summer, he or she will be able to use only $7,680 of the $10,000 available to each Millennium Scholar in that four-year period.
Treasurer Brian Krolicki said that shouldn't be a problem, as the average student takes five or more years to graduate.
Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor, suggested students should get better grades than a high "C" average to keep the scholarship.
Current law requires they maintain a 2.6 GPA each semester. She suggested starting at that level, but raising the requirement for sophomores, juniors and seniors.
Finance Chairman Bill Raggio, R-Reno, agreed, and the committee voted to raise the required grade point to 2.75 GPA for a student's second year and to 3.0 GPA for his or her junior and senior years.
Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, moved that the committee apply those rules not only to new Millennium Scholars, but to those already in college. So beginning in the fall, juniors and seniors will have to make a 3.0 GPA or better.
Krolicki, whose office manages the program, said 48 percent of Millennium Scholars have grade-point averages that fall between 2.6 and 3.0 - which means the change could cut a large number of students out of the program.
Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, said many of those are "bright kids but they're slackers." He said raising the bar would simply make them work harder to raise their grades.
Senators also voted not to pay for remedial courses and for "two strikes and you're out" - which means students who don't carry and pass 12 credits per semester or who fall below the required grade-point average in two semesters would lose access to the scholarship money forever.
They voted to require students to attend Nevada secondary schools at least three years to qualify for the scholarship. Current law requires two years in Nevada schools.
Raggio said there is no choice but to tighten the rules because the program has outgrown its funding - the tobacco settlement. "Let's keep in mind we have to save the program," he said.
Krolicki said the program costs $33 million a year, but there is only $17 million a year in tobacco funding for it. Last fall, 17,442 students used Millennium Scholarships, with 8,500 or more graduating high school every year.
"The program really cannot be sustained without new money or reductions," he said.
The changes are in addition to higher requirements to get the scholarship in the first place which were approved by the 2003 Legislature. That raised the 3.0 GPA qualifying high school grade-point average to 3.15 and then 3.25 over the next couple of years.
In addition to tougher rules on the program, the committee voted to approve a $35 million cash infusion out of this year's surplus and agreed to earmark $7.6 million a year from the unclaimed property fund to support it. Krolicki said the combination should fund Millennium Scholarship operations for another decade.
The Senate version is different in several areas from the original version of AB560 passed last week by the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. The two houses will have to meet to iron out differences.
Gov. Kenny Guinn created the program in 1999, when the tobacco settlement was first approved, saying it would give every Nevada high school graduate with at least a "B" average up to $10,000 for four years of college.
Krolicki said slumping tobacco payments, because fewer people are smoking, combined with the large number of high school graduates using the scholarships have combined to use up all the available money.
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.