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Scholars may lose state prize

Washington award for outstanding students likely to be certificate, not monetary

A Washington program that’s offered four-year college scholarships to outstanding high school students for 30 years could become another casualty of a down economy.

Letters sent out last month notifying 2011 graduates that they’ve been named Washington Scholars also included this warning: “due to severe economic conditions affecting all state expenditures … we recommend that you pursue educational plans without consideration of a monetary benefit from this award.”

Until 2009, the Washington Scholars award brought with it a scholarship that would just about pay for tuition at any public university in the state for three students in each of the state’s 49 legislative districts. Then in 2010, only the top student of the three selected was eligible for the scholarship. Those already in the program received only 90 percent of the money promised to them.

This year, Washington Scholars likely won’t get any scholarship, just a certificate.

As a high-performing student and Washington Scholar, Rogers High School senior Therone Poulson-Tillett has received numerous certificates, he said. The teen was hoping for a more substantial award.

“With the money that would have been attached to it, it would have been something different,” Poulson-Tillett said. “For a lot of people, like me, who can’t afford college, it was disappointing, so I have to figure something else out.”

The Legislature is still in session, so some scholarship money could be restored, said Gary Larson, spokesman for the Higher Education Coordinating Board, which administers the scholarships. However, the program is absent from the three currently proposed budgets.

Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office, said in the governor’s budget, more money was directed toward need-based grants for low-income students rather than the Washington Scholars program, which is not income-based.

Poulson-Tillett has been tracking the economy, and has made a decision about his college major based on his observations.

“I picked accounting because it’s an in-demand job.”