"Beginning immediately, we will introduce, throughout the Rio Grande Valley, the University Scholars Program, a merit-based scholarship program designed to support academic excellence in your schools," Nevárez told the counselors.
"This university will award full four-year tuition and fee scholarships to all of your students who have earned 'B'-level university credit while in high school through either Advanced Placement examinations or the Concurrent Enrollment Program at UT Pan American.
"This obviously is a major investment for UT Pan American, but we cannot think of a better way to invest our resources than in the young people of our region," he said. "This is a significant scholarship award to students — while they're still in high school — that will not only give them incentives to continue to work, but also let their parents know that their children will have the resources they need to continue their education."
Applications and information about the program should be available from high school counselors around the Valley by mid-March.
"This is directed at entering freshmen, but they can retain it (the scholarship) all four years based on their academic performance," said Bud Frankenberger, assistant to the president at UT Pan American. "This is really an opportunity for a tuition-free education at a four-year university based on a student's ability to perform at a high level."
Scholarship recipients, who will be recognized as University Scholars, must enroll for 15 hours at UT Pan American and successfully complete 30 semester credit hours per academic year with at least a "B" to continue in the scholarship program. The first recipients are expected to enroll this fall.
Frankenberger said the full value of a University Scholar scholarship to a student who retains it for all four years could be as high as $20,000 to $25,000.
He said the scholarship program's entrance requirements are designed to allow students who may not do well on standardized tests to participate.
"We look at these scholarships as performance-based rather than test score-based," he said. "Students who do not test well but are industrious have a chance to prove their academic abilities for this program by establishing an academic record in high school."
To qualify, high school students must earn 12 hours of college credit through four Advancement Placement exams or 12 hours of Concurrent Enrollment courses at UT Pan American with a "B" average. As an alternative, students may earn six hours of credit through two AP exams or UT Pan American Concurrent Enrollment courses and have either an ACT score of 24 (with minimum scores of 19 in English and 19 in math) or a cumulative SAT score of 1110 (with minimum scores of 500 in English and 500 in math).
"The idea is to make certain that students who meet these objectives in high school know prior to graduation that they qualify for these scholarships," Frankenberger said. "There will be a very abbreviated application procedure. Although we will encourage students to apply by the regular scholarship deadline, they may receive the scholarship after that, even through the registration process."
Frankenberger said he encourages students to apply for the program early so the university can put together a package of other scholarships and financial support to supplement the paid tuition and fees they would receive as University Scholars.
"Students are guaranteed this scholarship simply by meeting the performance criteria. That's the whole idea, to give students an incentive to perform well in high school so they can know they have earned this scholarship," he said. "The advantage to early application is that we may be able to combine this scholarship with other awards that may offset the costs of living, travel, books and other expenses.
"What we hope to do is reduce the need for students to work as much while they're going to college. We hope that packaging this scholarship with other financial assistance will allow students to focus on a full-time class load rather than going to school part-time and needing to work as much as they have in the past."