High schools seniors and adults looking to return to school can now begin applying for Idaho Opportunity scholarships.

State Board of Education officials recently announced they have opened the yearly application window for the popular scholarships.

Once known simply as the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship, the program has been split into two scholarships: one for Idaho high school graduates and another for adults who stopped out of school. Even though there are now two scholarships, both are paid out by the same fund, State Board spokesman Mike Keckler said.

The Idaho Opportunity Scholarship is for students who have graduated from an Idaho high school or home school or will graduate during the current academic year. In order to qualify students must maintain a minimum GPA of 2.7 and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, by March 1, 2020.

The Adult Learner Opportunity Scholarship is for Idaho residents who earned at least 24 credits before stopping out and are interested in returning to school to complete a degree or certificate.

In order to qualify, adults must have stopped out for at least two years and have a GPA of 2.5. The deadline to complete the Adult Learner Opportunity Scholarship and FAFSA application is Dec. 1 for the spring semester, April 15, 2020 for the summer semester or July 1, 2020 for the fall semester.

Both scholarships are worth up to $3,500 per year and may be used at Idaho colleges and universities, including University of Idaho, Idaho State University, Boise State University, Lewis-Clark State College, College of Western Idaho, College of Southern Idaho, North Idaho College, College of Eastern Idaho, as well as Brigham Young University-Idaho, Northwest Nazarene University and College of Idaho.

The scholarships cannot be used at out-of-state colleges and universities.

State officials say the scholarships are one of the strategies used to incentivize more Idahoans to continue their education after high school.

“Our state has invested in students by way of the Opportunity Scholarship,” State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield said in a written statement. “The financial cost of a post-secondary certificate or degree is the No. 1 barrier for most students. This need-based scholarship provides much needed assistance for high school graduates and adult learners, which includes military veterans and first-generation students. I believe it is making a positive difference in helping to create the workforce we need in Idaho.”

During the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers and Gov. Brad Little increased the amount the state sets aside for scholarships from $13.5 million to $20.5 million.

In previous years, the state hasn’t had enough money to cover all eligible students. Earlier this year, state officials estimated there was a wait list of more than 3,400 students who met the scholarship requirements but did not receive an award. The extra $7 million in funding was expected to cut into some of the backlog but not eliminate it entirely.

Although the scholarship is popular — demand outpaces supply — the scholarships have proved controversial for some legislators. Members of the Idaho House resisted efforts to expand the scholarship to adults a couple of years ago. And, this summer, some conservative lawmakers and leaders of the Idaho Freedom Foundation have questioned whether the state should ban “Dreamers” who fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from receiving scholarship money, the Idaho Statesman reported.

Idaho Opportunity Scholarship applications may be submitted online here, while Adult Learner Opportunity Scholarship applications may be submitted here.

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