Ann Romney and the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship

I have made at least half a dozen phone calls this summer trying to track down my daughter’s John and Abigail Adams Scholarship award money. This happens: her name is spelled two different ways in the BPS computer system, so things inevitably get lost. Sometimes I’ve wondered why I bother. At this point, it is only my obsessive-compulsive need for her to get all the scholarship money to which she is entitled that keeps me chasing after the paperwork, because the scholarship itself is not a game-changer. The estimated cost of attending UMass–Amherst for one year is $23,167. The Adams Scholarship covers $1,714. (And in my daughter’s case, only $286/semester, since the award overlaps with another one she received.)

So I was surprised last night when Ann Romney, in her speech to the Republican National Convention, championed this program as one of her husband’s strongest achievements during his one-term stint as Massachusetts governor:

Under Mitt, Massachusetts’s schools were the best in the nation. The best. He started the John and Abigail Adams scholarships, which give the top 25 percent of high school graduates a four-year tuition-free scholarship.

If you heard that and thought it sounded too good to be true, you’d be right. The Adams Scholarship is only available to Massachusetts public school graduates who go on to public colleges and universities, and in the UMass system, more than 80% of college costs are collected through “fees,” not “tuition.” And that doesn’t include the cost of room and board, books, travel expenses, and health insurance.

So yes, it’s a full-tuition scholarship... but tuition at UMass–Amherst is $857/semester. Families still have to come up with the other $10,000/semester in fees from other sources. (See also UMass–Lowell, UMass–Boston, and Bunker Hill Community College.)

And students who attend private colleges, or those who attend part-time, are not eligible at all.

That said, if you received an Advanced score on one section of the MCAS and an Advanced or Proficient score on the other, and if your combined scored placed you in the top 25% of your district’s graduating class, you will be eligible for the scholarship if you complete your diploma at a public high school in Massachusetts. Over the course of four years, that’s a $6,856 benefit in the form of a grant, not a loan, so it doesn’t have to be paid back. You don’t need to demonstrate financial need to qualify for it, and you don’t even have to fill out any special application; it’s awarded automatically (unless, of course, your name is spelled two different ways in the BPS computer system, in which case you should set aside your summer to track it down). If you are close to graduating but are considering leaving school, you should factor this into your decision. Homeschooled and privately educated students forfeit their eligibility.

One way around this is to transfer to an alternative high school. Initially, this was the reason my daughter enrolled in the Distance Learning Program at the Boston Day and Evening Academy. She did most of her academic work outside the school, but by earning a BDEA diploma she still qualified for the scholarship. BDEA has since become more restrictive about the students it accepts into the Distance program, but they are still far more flexible than most traditional high schools.