BISMARCK, N.D., Sept. 16, 2016 -- Lake Region State College student Maria Hawkins hopes to become a nurse practitioner when she completes her college education, and the North Dakota Scholarship Program is helping her to reach her goal.
"It definitely helps to cut the cost, and college is expensive," Hawkins said. "It does pay for part of my tuition, and I can also pay for books and other expenses, and I can pay for other programs that are going to help me in my nursing career."
Riley Thibert, who is a freshman at the University of North Dakota this fall, said the North Dakota Scholarship is crucial to helping him reach his goal of becoming a high school science teacher.
"When I was in high school I always enjoyed my science classes, but the most fun I had was in my chemistry class," Thibert said. "That and the fact that my mother, two of my uncles and my aunt all being teachers, it is a bit of a family profession."
Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota's superintendent of public instruction, said the state of North Dakota offers scholarships to full-time North Dakota academic and career and technical education students who meet specified academic standards.
The scholarships are worth up to $6,000 during a student's college career, with a $1,500 cap on annual payments until the limit is reached, Baesler said.
In the most recent round of scholarship awards, 1,648 North Dakota students qualified for up to $9.89 million worth of aid, Baesler said. Of that number, 1,021 students qualified for academic scholarships, while 627 were successful in obtaining scholarship aid for career and technical education.
Since the North Dakota Legislature began the program in 2009, 10,561 students have qualified for up to $63.4 million in aid. Of that amount, almost $26.3 million has been paid so far, with 1,425 students reaching the $6,000 maximum.
"The Legislature was truly farsighted in establishing this program," Baesler said. "There is no better investment of our taxpayers' resources than to put money toward the education of our young people. These scholarships reward our North Dakota students for doing well in high school and taking rigorous course work. It provides them with a reliable source of money for college."
To obtain an academic scholarship, a student must be a resident North Dakota high school senior with a grade-point average of at least 3.0 on a scale of 0 to 4.0. The student must finish a required study program and have a minimum score of 24 on the ACT college entrance exam.
The requirements for a career and technical education scholarship are similar, although a CTE student may substitute scores of 5 on each of three WorkKeys assessments in place of an ACT score of 24 or better. The WorkKeys tests measure workplace skills.
Once they are in college, scholarship recipients must keep a grade-point average of 2.75 or higher with a full-time course load, which means enrolling in at least 12 credits during the first two semesters or quarters and at least 15 credits during each term afterward.
Thibert, 18, a graduate of St. John High School in Rolette County in north-central North Dakota, said the academic criteria for qualifying for the scholarship are difficult, but fair.
"It was hard. It wasn't a walk in the park," he said. "You work hard, you get the scholarship. It doesn't get handed out too lightly, but it's not impossible to obtain."
Scholarship recipients may use the money at any of the approved public, private or tribal colleges within North Dakota, including the 11 colleges that are part of the North Dakota University System. Scholarship aid may be deferred for as long as six years following a student's graduation from high school.
A brochure that describes the scholarship program is here: https://www.nd.gov/dpi/uploads/204/Brochurefor201516Revised4112016.pdf A list of frequently asked questions about the program is here (the link includes a full list of North Dakota colleges where the scholarships may be used): https://www.nd.gov/dpi/uploads/204/SchlrshpFAQ.pdf
Hawkins, 18, is a freshman at Lake Region after graduating from Devils Lake High School last spring. She works as a dietary aide at the Eventide Heartland nursing home in Devils Lake. "I just really like to care for people, to help people get better," she said.
After she finishes her course work at Lake Region, Hawkins wants to move on to a four-year school to complete her nursing education. She mentioned the University of North Dakota and the University of Mary in Bismarck as possibilities.
Mark Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, said the scholarship program represented "a tremendous investment in our future."
"These scholarships help that investment along by defraying some of the cost to students from North Dakota as they attend a program of higher education right here at home," Hagerott said. "It's a win-win-win for students, the campuses and our state."