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The road to scholarships: How Sparky license plates send students to ASU

Tracy Scott and Doug Nick explain how the scholarships are funded and where the funds go

Sparky drives with an ASU license plate in this illustration published on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.

Sparky drives with an ASU license plate in this illustration published on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.

Maroon, gold and adorned with Sparky the Sun Devil on the side — Sparky license plates do more than just represent ASU, they provide scholarship funds for students.

The scholarship fund was kicked off by ASU in the late '80s after a bill was set up to have scholarship programs funded by specialty license plates. After the the bill was passed, the legislature decided to set up a collegiate license plate program that would fund scholarships for all three Arizona universities. This was signed into legislation by then-Governor Rose Mofford in 1988.

The sparky plate funds the Medallion scholarship, whereas the other Arizona schools have different scholarships that their plates fund. The Medallion scholarship is strictly for students who attended an Arizona high school and are planning to go to ASU after they graduate.

Students who are awarded this scholarship get $3,500 per year and must follow different requirements in order to keep the scholarship.

“It really is such an amazing program for these students because we have a student advisor who is there as a resource to (the students), to be a mentor to them, to offer help and support,” Tracy Scott, director of membership marketing and strategic communications for the Alumni Association said. “It’s just a truly amazing family.”

Cooper Payne, exploratory freshman, said that in the month and a half that he’s been at ASU, the scholarship program has already brought him many opportunities to connect and engage at ASU.

“I’m only a freshman, so my experience is just beginning, but so far it’s been incredibly amazing,” he said.

Alum Marcos Gold said he believes that he wouldn't be where he is today if it weren't for the Medallion program or the people who bought license plates.  

Gold found his job in London's Parliament through the Alumni Association for the Medallion Program itself.

"Every person who has ever bought a license plate I can turn around and say, 'Look, I got a master's degree. I now work in Parliament, and that is solely because you allowed me to have an education at ASU through the scholarship,'" he said. 

Since 1988, ASU has sold over 18,000 license plates, generating over $300,000 in funding for the scholarship.

The license plates generate money by giving a majority of the proceeds to the scholarship fund. Each specialty license plate costs $25, and of that money $17 goes into funding for the recipients.

According to Doug Nick, spokesman for the motor vehicle division of Arizona Department of Transportation, ASU currently holds second place in license plate sales among the three Arizona universities. In the 2016 fiscal year, UA generated $400,996, ASU generated $301,920 and NAU generated $46,172.

That puts ASU behind the Wildcats by roughly $100,000.

However, ASU has shown progress in the past three years to increase its sales. In the 2013 fiscal year, ASU made $248,285, in 2014, $275,689 and in 2015, $291,720.

In 2010, ASU revamped the original 1988 design of the plate to give it a new look and attract buyers.

“We did some research and test marketing and we really believed that the all gold plate really stood out on the road ways,” Scott said. “We just really wanted it to stand out and apart and that’s why we made the change.”

As of Aug. 31, 2016, there are 18,349 plates on the road. August marks the highest plate sales in a month with 1,874 plates sold.

The Sparky plate is the sixth-highest selling plate in the state out of 67 plates that Arizona offers its drivers.

“We are thrilled that we are at sixth, but of course, we’d absolutely love to be number one and we are working on that every day to increase those plates,” Scott said.  

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