UPEI restructures scholarship program

Eric McCarthy newsroom@journalpioneer.com
Published on February 5, 2014

ELMSDALE --Westisle Composite High School graduating student Megan Handrahan didn’t need convincing Wednesday, from UPEI president and vice-chancellor Alaa Abd-El-Aziz that she should choose the Island’s only university for her post-secondary education. She had already made that choice, she said, three to four years ago.

But Handrahan appreciated what Aziz had to offer as she believes it will help convince more high school graduates from P.E.I. to attend UPEI.

Abd-El-Aziz visited Westisle to announce the university is restructuring its scholarship program to more effectively recognize academic achievement. Starting with the 2014-15 year, all new and continuing students who have an average of 80 per cent or higher will receive academic excellence scholarships. They don’t even have to fill out an application.

The award will be $500 for students who have an average of 80 to 84.99 per cent. It increases to $1,000 if the average is between 85 and 89.99 per cent, goes to $2,000 if the average tops 90 and to $3000 for students who crack 95 per cent.

“I think this is a much better system,” Aziz said; “it attracts more Island students to stay and also be recognized for their performance.”

Handrahan likes his way of thinking. “It might give you a little more incentive to go towards UPEI,” said Handrahan who plans to become a nurse practitioner. “It draws you in a little more.”

According to the award structure, she believes she will qualify for the $2,000 award.

“It’s nice, because you don’t have to apply for this one. You get so caught up with all the applications and the signing of sheets and reference letters and all those things that really gets overwhelming,” she said. “To know this one is just going to be there, helps you to be relaxed.”

Under the old system, the university president said, if Westisle had 10 or 15 students with an average over 95 per cent, three or four of them might get a full tuition scholarship while other students performing at the same level would get less. “We feel this is not a good system. We need to reward all the students who perform within this band.” He noted the students can still apply for other scholarships available at the university and stack the awards.

Classmate Katie Oliver has already received her acceptance letter from UPEI. She believes more Island students than usual will opt to attend UPEI because of the restructuring. “They apply for lots of universities and they usually pick one that they are guaranteed money for, and now they’re guaranteed, so I think it’s going to bring more,” Oliver commented.

While he admits the overall value of the scholarship program increases only modestly, Abd-El-Aziz said the way it is structured should make UPEI more competitive in attracting students from UPEI and beyond. “In the Maritimes we will be in the top third of the universities, because of the amount of scholarships we’re giving,” he said.

First year students from P.E.I. will continue to receive the $2,200 George Coles entrance bursary.

“The student union is very excited that the university is welcoming all current students onto the plan through the Academic excellence award,” said UPEI Student Union vice-president Travis Gordon. “Because the program starts at the threshold of 80 per cent, there will be many, many students who will be able to access the program right out of the gate,” he offered

Student Union president Anastasia Smallwood called the restructuring a fair and competitive program “that will reward so many more students as they enter UPEI and as they continue through to graduation.”