An executive order by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan on Wednesday created a program that offers college scholarships to high school students who graduate early.
Hogan justified the action by saying that it would expand access to higher education while saving the state money, according to The Washington Post.
Students who graduate early will be eligible for up to $6,000 through the Maryland Early Graduation Scholarship Program. The funds can be used for tuition and expenses at an approved two-year or four-year college.
“By encouraging high-achieving students to complete high school a year early, the state can reallocate what would have been spent on a student’s last year of public high school, and help with the first year of college instead,” Hogan said in a press release.
The initiative isn’t the first spearheaded by Hogan. In November, he announced the creation of “early college high schools” that focus on skilled trades and vocational careers, areas typically overlooked by traditional high schools and colleges. It’s an effort to prepare students who might not thrive in a traditional college setting, but want to pursue highly valued skills.
“Successful P-TECH graduates will be first in line for jobs in the private sector, or they can apply their skills and their knowledge to go on to college,” Hogan told the Baltimore Sun at the time.
He has focused on experimenting with non-traditional approaches without deep cuts for higher education.
Governor Hogan’s recently proposed budget includes a 2 percent tuition increase for public colleges and universities in the state, as well as $78 million in additional support funds.
“I don’t want to see cuts to higher education, so that’s probably [what] a tuition decrease would do,” Hogan said previously.
About 1,000 high school graduates will have the opportunity to receive a scholarship for early graduation. The Post noted that the state could possibly save up to $1.4 million on the arrangement.
About 58 percent of Maryland college graduates have student debt, with an average amount of about $27,000, according to the Project on Student Loan Debt. A full-value scholarship could reduce that burden by 22 percent.
Critics of the plan noted the small number of students who would benefit and voiced concern that a fourth year in high school benefits students by helping them mature. There’s also concern that the program favors students from a high-income background and doesn’t focus on disadvantaged students. The scholarships, then, would benefit students who can already afford college tuition or the student loans that follow.
For the state, it looks like a win-win. By encouraging early graduation, graduates can enter the workforce sooner, producing value and raising tax revenues. Students start their careers quickly, the economy grows, and the state becomes more solvent. With only 1,000 students graduating early, an economic boom wouldn’t result, but an extra year for a student to invest in higher education or develop skills in the workforce instead of spending unnecessary time in high school could be a better use of their time.