Miss. Scholars growing in funds and participants

Published 5:00 am Monday, March 16, 2009

The total amount of available scholarship funds for LincolnCounty’s Mississippi Scholars has broken into the six-figure range,eclipsing program officials’ wildest expectations and signaling abreakout year for the young program.

Fundraising Chairman David Culpepper said the program has grownto a total of 62 available scholarships, ranging from $500 to$2,000, with a total renewable scholarship amount of $123,500. Theskyrocketing dollar figure was secured largely within the lastmonth, as six previous non-participating colleges and universitiespledged $80,000 worth of scholarships.

Culpepper said most of the state’s major four-year schools havecommitted to the program because they recognize the value of addingMississippi Scholars to their student bodies.

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“If we can send these institutions a better, well-roundedstudent who is prepared academically and communicates well withpeople in a social setting, then they become a better academicstudent on campus and an ambassador for that school,” he said.”These students are investing in their futures, and the collegessee it as an investment toward a bigger, better student body.”

The program’s goal is to enlist the support of every majorcollege and university in the state, Culpepper said.

The University of Mississippi and Mississippi State Universitywere the only large colleges on board at the program’s origin, hesaid, but now officials are close to enlisting the support of themall. All that means, he said, is room for Mississippi Scholars togrow.

“We still have some four-year institutions that haven’t gottenon board yet, and we’re looking to plug ’em all in,” Culpeppersaid.

As the total dollar amount of available scholarships grows, sotoo does the number of Mississippi Scholars.

Culpepper said the Class of 2009 will include 210 MississippiScholars – 41 percent of all Lincoln County seniors from the cityand county school districts, Brookhaven Academy and the MississippiSchool of the Arts. The local Mississippi Scholars program is theonly one in the state that includes students from private schools,he said.

“Lincoln County has really become the bell cow for MississippiScholars programs around the state,” Culpepper said.

Scholarship Committee Chairman Kenny Goza said MississippiScholars officials are working to enlist more support from collegesand businesses, trying to keep the number of available scholarshipscommensurate with the number of scholars. Only 62 of the 210scholars will be funded through the program, leaving 148 seniors tofind scholarship support elsewhere.

“We’d like to get to a point where we can give something toevery student,” Goza said. “That’s just going to come from beingcreative and having the resources to have the dollars and increasedsupport from the institutions. Will it happen next year? We don’tknow. Is that what we want? It always has been.”

Goza said the program, which began in 2006 by encouraging highschool students to take more rigorous courses to prepare themselvesfor college academics, has always had more participants thanscholarships. The committee selects recipients based onrecommendations from counselors and school administrators.

The program’s success in 2009, however, is greater than ever,and its three-year trend of growth suggests that more and moreLincoln County seniors will receive scholarships as the years rollon.

Goza said Mississippi Scholars began in 2006 with 26 studentsand $8,000. Only three years later, both the number of students andfunding have increased dramatically.

“Hallelujah,” Goza said. “It’s a chance for our students to goto college and extend their education, and that’s what we want todo. We’re trying to produce a better student, not only forcolleges, but a better employee for the workplace.”

As the Mississippi Scholars program grows, school officialsswoon.

“It’s phenomenal,” said Brookhaven School DistrictSuperintendent Lea Barrett. “It shows the spirit of this communitytoward education and the future. Not only is it a reward for(students) taking a more rigorous curriculum, but it also has avery practical value to both the student and the student’s parentswhen they pursue that college degree.”

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Terry Brister saidit was refreshing to see Mississippi high schools earning so muchrecognition for academics.

“I’m elated,” he said. “We’re usually in the newspaper talkingabout athletics and who sides with who – now, academics has becomea frontrunner. I’m elated it has come to academic standards and thekids are receiving this recognition. Shouldn’t I be elated overthat?”

Brookhaven Academy interim headmaster Herbert Davis said theun-recognized winners in Mississippi Scholars are parents who savemoney on college.

“It’s an incredible amount of pressure it can take off theparents,” he said. “Any time you can get an opportunity for thekids – I say kids; the parents are the ones who love it – to berecognized and rewarded for good grades and participation, that’swhat we want.”