Tighten Tennessee lottery scholarship rules

Tighten Tennessee lottery scholarship rules

September 1st, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

Lawmakers in Nashville are considering some long-overdue restrictions on the granting of lottery-funded scholarships in Tennessee.

They really don't have much choice, because on the current trajectory, lottery funds are expected to be depleted to the state-mandated minimum within 13 years, according to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Something has to be done to keep the program funded, and the state can't just rely on more people playing the lottery to make up the shortfall.

So, legislators are looking at a plan to stop giving lottery scholarships to high school graduates whose only qualification is that they scored a 21 or higher on the ACT college entrance exam.

At present, students can get a $4,000 scholarship for four-year schools in the state by scoring a 21 on the ACT or by earning a 3.0 grade-point average in high school. But 80 percent of students who get lottery scholarships based on their ACT scores alone do not maintain the grades required in college to keep the scholarships, losing them after their freshman year. That diverts scholarship money from students whose academic records show they are more likely to succeed in college.

Tightening the rules could save the state $24 million per year -- which is plainly necessary to maintain the lottery program's viability over the long term and to stop wasting scholarship money.

Funding higher education with lottery proceeds is a bad idea, in our view, because it promotes the vice of gambling. But if lottery funds are to be used for education in Tennessee, it is reasonable to insist that those dollars be spent effectively.