KU flashed more cash to lure more National Merit Scholars to campus.
A hefty wager by Kansas University in the high-stakes race for National Merit Scholars was the ticket to a record enrollment of these talented students.
Fifty-nine merit scholars -- double the number at other Kansas colleges combined -- began academic careers this fall semester on Mount Oread. Three-fourths are Kansans.
Merit scholars represent the top 1 percent of graduating high school seniors.
KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway said Monday his goal was to recruit at least 100 scholars annually by the year 2000.
"We will meet it," he said. "We'll make considerably more progress next year."
Martha Ruel, director of KU's scholarship center, said the chancellor's decision to award $5,000 this fall to each merit scholar who made KU their first college choice was a bonanza for recruiting. The financial aid package offered scholars last year was $3,300. It was a meager $1,300 three years ago.
"That's overcoming the old stereotype that KU doesn't offer enough scholarships," Ruel said.
This is the second consecutive year KU had more than 50 scholars in its entering class. Over the past five years, KU's merit scholar enrollments were 57 in 1995, 38 in 1994, 42 in 1993, 38 in 1992, 48 in 1991.
Statistics from all other Big 12 Conference universities for the fall semester aren't available.
Iowa State University's enrollment of merit scholars increased this year from about 50 to 150 in response to that state's new financial aid package designed to recruit out-of-state merit scholars.
"Our biggest challenge is that our border states are receiving help from their state legislatures," KU's Ruel said. "We are up against stiff competition."
Hemenway said he was committed to raising more endowed funding to raise scholarship support of merit scholars beyond $5,000.
"It still does not pay all their costs. We'd like to get it to where it's a free ride," he said.
In 1995, KU ranked third in the Big Eight behind the University of Oklahoma (178) and the University of Missouri (61). Historically, the University of Texas and Texas A&M recruit about 200 scholars each.
Hemenway said attracting a triple-digit class of merit scholars would take more than money. His objective is to improve the campus academic environment for all high-achieving students.
"We need to challenge them to rise to their potential as students and learners," he said.
In 1990, then-KU Chancellor Gene Budig set a three-year goal of placing the university in the top 10 among state universities with National Merit Scholars.
He didn't met that goal and blamed the Kansas Legislature for refusing to allocate special financing for merit scholars.