BOISE — The State Board of Education doesn’t know how many “Dreamers” receive a share of the $20.5 million Idaho Opportunity Scholarship.
But more and more Hispanic students are applying for the popular state-funded college scholarships, and Hispanic students make up a relatively large share of scholarship recipients.
The Opportunity Scholarship has come under political scrutiny in recent weeks — and that could continue into the 2020 legislative session. Some Republican lawmakers and the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative lobbying group, have questioned whether “Dreamers” should receive state scholarships. Last week, the Idaho Statesman reported lawmakers might seek a ban on such scholarship awards.
The scholarship question is all part of a larger, ongoing debate over diversity and inclusion programs at Boise State University and other institutions.
“Dreamers” fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, a federal policy that shields undocumented students and adults from deportation. About 3,000 Idahoans are covered under DACA.
The State Board doesn’t track Opportunity Scholarship recipients’ DACA status, spokesman Mike Keckler said. But the board compiles other demographic data:
- Last fall, nearly 21 percent of the state’s 4,083 scholarship recipients were Hispanic. That number reflects new scholarship awards for first-year students, and renewals for students continuing their education. By contrast, Hispanic students made up less than 16 percent of last year’s high school graduating class.
- From 2014 through 2018, the number of Hispanic students applying for the Opportunity Scholarship more than tripled. This greatly exceeded the overall increase in scholarship applications.
- During this same four-year span, the number of Hispanic applicants who qualified for a scholarship nearly tripled.
This year’s numbers aren’t yet available. The State Board won’t have a new report on scholarship applicants and recipients until December, Keckler said.
The Opportunity Scholarship is a linchpin in the state’s multimillion-dollar drive to convince more high school graduates to continue their education. In order to improve Idaho’s low and stagnant postsecondary completion numbers, state leaders hope to attract a larger and more diverse pool of students into college and career-technical programs.
In 2016, only 41 percent of Idaho’s adults held a college degree or professional certificate, according to the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation. Only five states ranked lower. But only 13 percent of Idaho’s Hispanics held a degree or certificate, ranking dead last in the nation.
The Opportunity Scholarship provides up to $3,500 per year for Idaho students who stay in state to attend college. The money is in high demand; earlier this year, the State Board pegged the scholarship waiting list at more than 3,400 students.
Consequently, the Legislature has put more money into scholarships. This year’s $20.5 million budget represents a $7 million increase from the preceding year.
But the scholarship has been controversial, even before the recent flareup over diversity and inclusion programs. This year’s budget increase passed the House on a narrow 38-30 vote.