LITTLE ROCK, Ark.
About 10,500 college-bound high school seniors learned Wednesday they've been awarded scholarships funded by the Arkansas lottery.
Higher Education Department Interim Director Shane Broadway made the announcement at a legislative hearing Wednesday morning and again at an Arkansas Lottery Commission meeting, signaling that the application process won't become bogged down as it did last year.
Broadway told the panels that everyone at the agency will spend at least part of their time processing applications. Broadway said his own role would be to help process transcripts, which were a trouble spot a year ago when many got lost.
Already, 30,000 students have applied for the scholarships, and Interim Deputy Director Harold Criswell said another 60,000 to 70,000 are expected. Last year, the agency processed 91,000 applications and awarded about 31,000 scholarships.
This year's recipients will get $4,500 if they are university students, and community college students will receive $2,250. That's 10 percent less than the $5,000 and $2,500 that last year's class received. The deadline for applying is June 1.
Last year, the agency awarded $123 million in lottery scholarships, which are officially called Academic Challenge Scholarships. Of that, $14.5 million went to community college students and $13.2 million to students at in-state private colleges.
About $100 million will be available for awards this year.
Broadway and Criswell said they didn't know how many scholarships would be awarded this year because several variables are at work.
It's not yet known what the ultimate breakdown of applications by university and community college students will be. Also, some students who received scholarships last year may not have maintained the necessary 2.5 grade point average to keep the scholarship.
Broadway said his goal is for all graduating high school seniors to know by July 1 whether they have been approved. Non-traditional students and students currently enrolled in college would then learn whether they have qualified.
Last year was the first year the lottery scholarships were awarded, and it was also the first year the Higher Education Department used a simplified online application process. The result was that the agency was swamped by applications and there were delays in letting students know whether they had made the cut.
Broadway said the agency learned from last year's problems, but said one area that could cause trouble includes applications from students who were awarded scholarships last year. This is the first year that applications from returning students will be processed.
"We may have some issues come up," Broadway said.
Addressing the legislative Lottery Oversight Committee, Broadway said he expect "human error" will cause occasional problem but nothing on the scale of a year ago.
The panel also asked the Lottery Commission to review its vendor contracts to see if it could find any savings that could be rolled into scholarship funding.
At the commission meeting, members elected Dianne Lamberth to a second one-year term as chairman. Members heard an update from Internal Auditor Mike Hyde on how findings from a critical legislative audit were being addressed. Of 30 issues raised, 23 have been fully addressed and the agency is working through the remaining items.
Hyde said the lottery is changing its bookkeeping so it will conform to generally accepted standards and has established its database of ineligible players, such as lottery employees.
The agency is still working on adding internal controls on its payroll administration.