By John Lyon 

Arkansas News Bureau 

LITTLE ROCK — The number of students attending college in Arkansas on lottery-funded scholarships is nearly the same now as a year ago, Arkansas Department of Higher Education officials said Friday. 

Officials said 31,109 students are in the program now. In the 2010-11 school year, the first year in which the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship program received funding from the state lottery, 31,131 students received scholarships. 

The number of students in the program this year is expected to increase over the coming months, but only slightly, officials said. 

Meanwhile, the number of traditional incoming college freshmen receiving  scholarships for the fall semester is 11,960, up from 643 last year. 

The increase in traditional students did not cause a corresponding increase in the total number of students in the program because many who received scholarships last year have graduated, said ADHE spokeswoman Brandi Hinkle. 

In the program’s first year, the Legislature set aside $12 million for nontraditional students and $41.5 million for current achievers, or students who were already in college. After all eligible traditional students received scholarships, leftover money went to the other two categories. 

This year, the Legislature divided students into just two categories, traditional and nontraditional, and did not allow leftover money to go to nontraditional students. 

That meant that "the only category that could increase was traditional students," Hinkle said. 

The leftover money that went to current achievers last year was prioritized, with students closest to graduation getting preference over other students, so many of those recipients were in their final year of college, Hinkle said. 

The Legislature also lowered the amounts of the scholarships this year from $5,000 to $4,500 per year for a four-year school and from $2,500 to $2,250 per year for a two-year school, though students who entered the program in its first year have continued to receive the original amount.