Most summer weekdays, right after watching “Reading Rainbow” and “Beetlejuice” I stuck around, flopped haphazardly in front of the TV, cereal bowl in my lap probably filled with some variation of Captain Crunch.
Then he came on — Bob Barker. And everyone just looked so damn happy to be there, arms waving wildly, t-shirts proclaiming “I haven’t slept in three days because I was so excited to come here!” How could you not love it? It was like an Ozzy concert, but with senior citizens and “Spay and neuter your pet” ads at the end of every episode that always made me giggle.
Unbeknownst to me at that fragile age, pajamas still with the latest Disney princess on them, I developed a knack for valuing things; i,e. that toaster is approximately $50 and that matching suede luggage set, definitely $850.
So today, years later and Disney pajamas behind me (I swear), I’ve been appreciating something that in hindsight I never thought twice about.
When I graduated high school in 2004, someone gave me $10,000. That someone was not Bob Barker and it wasn’t for correctly guessing how much a trip for two to Costa Rica costs, nor was it waiting behind door number four.
No, I was a Millennium scholar.
Started back in 1999 by then-Nevada Gov. Kenny Guin, the merit-based scholarship for Nevada high school graduates program came to fruition thanks to the 1998 Tobacco Settlement. I have since wanted to kiss every smoker I’ve come across, but refrain for fear of restraining orders, not to mention their breath.
You see, this scholarship, which pays for roughly 90 percent of tuition costs every semester, made college possible. Not just for me, but for double the number of students attending Nevada universities since the inception of the program.
Such a scholarship is unprecedented in Nevada’s history. This state needs those graduates. It’s our working force. To cut it would only be like shooting ourselves in the foot.
And this last Monday, my left foot hurt.
Tough economic times have led to some pretty desperate measures, as the state Legislature chopped $5 million from the scholarship, in addition to the $7.6 million they already took back in June. As the fund stands now, it will only last until 2015.
After four years of trying to plump up the program, the Legislature considers the fund to be “unused money” or excess reserves.
Well, Legislature, as I am nearing completion of my degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, I can tell you this: My scholarship didn’t go unused. Every semester, when class registration rolled around, I signed up for my 12 credits. It was a whopping several thousands of dollars with extra fees tacked in, and don’t forget another couple hundred for all those books that I likely opened twice (except yours, Jake Highton).
“Whew! Thank God for that Millennium Scholarship,” I told myself. It was like I had landed on Park Place in a Monopoly game and had to fork over an extremely high rent because of those damn hotels. But it didn’t matter because I had play money and “Go” was just around the corner.
But as I’ve come to realize, paying for college is not a game.
Without this scholarship, my parents undoubtedly would have found a way to put me through college with loans and the like. But what about other, less fortunate students? How many doors have been opened because of this scholarship? And what are we to do now, as those doors have been resoundingly slammed shut?
There are other scholarships out there, but it’s unlikely there are many others that guarantee such near-complete coverage with as minimal requirements as the Millennium Scholarship. Undeniably, there will be students who miss out because of these drastic cuts.
Which leads us to where Nevada has been stuck for a while now — a rock and a hard place. Money has to be cut somewhere, it’s the hard, bottom line and it’s hardly pretty.
Just this past semester alone, I’ve seen UNR’s budget fall victim to the axe so many times, it’s getting hard to keep track.
Math and Writing Centers, gone. Career Development Center, gone. And now entire language programs are being considered next.
An English professor confessed to my class a few weeks ago he hasn’t seen another university go through cuts like UNR has and still stay open.
So when I hear these reassurances that the fund will be replenished as soon as possible when the economy improves, I find it hard to believe.
When our economy “improves” who will guarantee this scholarship will get the funding it’s lacking? Our entire state is suffering, money needed everywhere, not just at UNR, and I fear that by the time our economy pulls itself out of the depths of the back alley garbage dumpster it’s in, it will be too late to substantially restock this fund.
We will have failed our future working force and I do not want to stick around in Nevada as someone explains to the class of 2014 why some of them just won’t be able to go to college.
Because if “The Price is Right” has taught me anything, there’s always a price tag, and the Millennium Scholarship has a value that even I can’t begin to estimate.
Krystal Bick is a reporter for the Sparks Tribune and a student at the University of Nevada, Reno. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.