Shaletha Jackson says a state scholarship program is helping her accomplish her goal of becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college. Oklahoma's Promise, a program that has helped more than 100,000 students attend college, is paying Jackson's tuition at the University of Oklahoma, where she will be a sophomore this fall. Wednesday is this year's deadline for applying to the program, which provides free tuition at Oklahoma state schools for students with a 2.5 or higher grade point average and a family income of less than $50,000 a year at the time of application. Students who just finished eighth, ninth or 10th grades are eligible to apply for the program, which also requires them to take college preparatory classes. To keep the scholarship, students also have to keep their grades up. Under rules that take effect this fall, freshman entering college must maintain a 2.0 GPA in their freshman and sophomore years of college, and a 2.5 GPA in their junior and senior years in school. Students attending college under the scholarship program must complete their degree within five years. The Legislature created Oklahoma's Promise in 1992. Officials expect more than 19,000 students to receive funding in the fall. More than $240 million has been awarded in scholarships since 1996. Although many state-funded programs have seen their budgets trimmed as tax collections sag, the scholarship program was not affected, said Bryce Fair, associate vice chancellor for scholarships and grants for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Money for the scholarship program is set aside before the budget process begins, he said. "It's important that students are confident that the money is there,” he said. In the 2010 budget year, which ends Wednesday, $54 million in state money was used to pay for the scholarship program. In the 2011 budget year, $57 million is appropriated. The increase is to offset growth in the number of people enrolling and a 5 percent increase in college tuition. The program gives students and their families the confidence they need to consider pursuing a college degree. The goal is to have more people earning four-year college degrees. "You have to start with families and students believing they can achieve it,” Fair said. Jackson's mother works at AAA, and her father is a bus driver for the Midwest City-Del City School District. Before she heard about the scholarship program, Jackson doubted she would be able to afford to attend a four-year school. Today, Jackson enjoys attending football games and participating in student groups on campus. Rather than pay $700 for a summer course, she pays just $200 for fees and other expenses. "It means a lot that they have this for students that don't have the money for college,” Jackson said. CONTRIBUTING: JULIE BISBEE, CAPITOL BUREAU
Oklahoma's Promise programFor more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (800) 858-1840. To apply online, visit www.okpromise.org.