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Syracuse Considers Cuts to Posse Scholarships

Syracuse University's announcement that it would scale back its support of Posse Foundation scholars triggered a student protest Friday and has college administrators reviewing its decision.

For three years, Syracuse has given 30 full-tuition scholarships to students from Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Miami. The diverse teams or "posses" of 10 students are chosen in high school for their leadership potential and attend college as a group providing one another with peer support.

The university has decided to cut two of the posses next year, accepting scholars only from Miami. Officials say commitments to the 90 current scholars will be honored.

"We want to fine tune and spend our limited aid dollars best," said Ryan Williams, the associate vice president for enrollment management and the director of scholarships and student aid, in a phone interview.  "This is not a reduction in our commitment to diversity on campus...It is not a reduction to our commitment of an outlay of dollars."

The decision was made and communicated to the New York-based Posse Foundation about two weeks ago, after an annual assessment of the university's financial aid programs, said Williams.  Syracuse's new chancellor, Kent Syverud, signed off on the move and informed Posse Founder Debbie Bial.

"When there is a new president, there is often a revisitng of the strategy of the institution, about how they are spending money," said Bial. "[Syverud] reassured me up and down they love the kids and it had nothing to do with the program."

Of the Posse students now at Syracuse, there has been nearly a 100 percent persistence rate, noted Bial. Over the past 20 years, the cohort model has been highly successful with 90 percent of Posse scholars graduating within four years. Before their freshman year, high school seniors participate in eight months of training as a team to ease the transition into college and equip them with skills be be successful academically and socially.

(See 'Posses' Keep Students on Academic Track.)

"We are really disappointed they are cutting back, but we are hoping it's temporary," said Bial of the Syracuse move.

Some have raised concern that the decision was an effort to boost Syracuse's college ranking, which is impacted by test scores of incoming students. Posse scholars don't always have stellar test scores, since the scholarship selection criteria values leadership potential. Williams refuted claims that improved rankings were a driver.

On Friday, students, including Posse scholars, protested the university's decision to cut 20 scholarships next year.  Posse scholars receive a four-year, full-tuition scholarship which can amount to about $160,000 per student, with the current Syracuse annual tuition rate of $40,000.

Williams said on Friday the vice chancellor and provost asked him to be part of a group to review the reduction in Posse scholarships to "make sure we were making the right decision." They group will look at the data and are to report back with their recommendation within the next day or two, said Williams.

A message posted on the university website Monday said: "Our goal is to ensure the proposed changes are consistent with the University's longstanding history of supporting educational opportunities and academic excellence across a diverse student body."

The Posse Foundation has partnerships with 51 colleges and universities. While many campuses are expanding, Bial said it is "very unusual" to have a college reduce its support.

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