Utah System of Higher Education

Lawmakers admonish Utah System of Higher Education's scholarship administration

Salt Lake City —

(KUTV) Utah lawmakers on the administrative rules review committee had some tough questions for the Utah System of Higher Education Tuesday. They wanted to know why Utah honor students are struggling to qualify for the taxpayer-funded Regents Scholarship.

The Regents is a scholarship designed, by statute, to award smart and hardworking students, including one who became the subject of a Get Gephardt investigation last November.

High school senior Madison Taylor and her father, Tim Taylor, were frustrated after they learned Madison would not be awarded the scholarship. Madison was an honor student who never receiving a grade below an 'A-' throughout her high school career, which included several advanced placement classes. She believed she qualified when she applied.

The scholarship was denied because of a rule that had confused her, her parents and her school counselor. They each deemed it would be best for Madison to drop one class and enroll in another that would earn her college credit. But, by dropping the class, Madison unknowingly disqualified herself from the scholarship.

At the time, USHE Commissioner David Buhler told Get Gephardt he did not believe the rule that cost Madison a scholarship was in anyway ambiguous or confusing. Not everyone agreed. After several months and multiple appeals, a review committee assigned to Madison's case deemed that there is "confusion" in the rule and ordered the USHE to award Madison the scholarship, after all.

After the review committee's decision, 15 other students who had also been denied the scholarship for a similar reason saw it awarded to them as well.

Madison and her father attended Tuesday's hearing and watched as Commissioner Buhler was given marching orders to review the rule that hampered Madison and those 15 other students. The USHE was asked to reconsider the rule and to find language that makes the rule less confusing.

"We're working on a draft right now, " Buhler told the committee.

Senate Chairman Howard Stephenson also admonished Buhler for the USHE's perceived inflexible way of administering the scholarships. He gave several examples of students who were denied because a student was slightly tardy submitting their scholarship application or sent their application to the wrong place or in the wrong format. Those students were not given any opportunity to correct their administrative error.

"I would rather have the agency bending over backwards where ever a student has clearly qualified academically that they not be denied administratively, " Stephenson told Buhler. "Would you be willing to look at how you can accommodate that kind of gentler, kinder approach?

"We'd be happy to look at that, " Buhler replied.

After the hearing, Buhler told Get Gephardt, "I think we need to have clear rules and apply them fairly and not change rules depending on who it is that's asking."

Madison says she is glad her story has received the attention of lawmakers and hopes that it serves to help future students.

"I hope that students who really worked and deserve the scholarship get it and that they're not going to be denied just because of some technicality, " she said.

Her dad says he believes Madison may never have been awarded the scholarship had it not been for contacting the press. He says he had asked to address the USHE directly at one of their meeting but was told he could not, so he was compelled to go public.

"We want to thank your show, Get Gephardt, for the good work that you guys did and I know that it gave a lot of publicity for Madison's case and we appreciate you, " he said.

Buhler says rule and policy changes will be discussed at the next USHE meeting which is currently scheduled for April.

Produced by Michelle Poe and Brian Morris

Edited by Richard Trelles

Photography by Brian Morris and Matt Michela

If you have a problem you'd like Matt to investigate, call us at 801-839-1250 or email gephardt@kutv.tv.

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