New building finds funding

Rep. Bryan Stevenson (R-Joplin) addresses Missouri Southern community members at the Jan. 26 press conference announcing the Initiative.

Rep. Bryan Stevenson (R-Joplin) addresses Missouri Southern community members at the Jan. 26 press conference announcing the Initiative.

For seven years, Missouri Southern has tried to receive funding for a new health sciences building. Now, Gov. Matt Blunt has announced a plan which would fund the building, as well as projects for many other colleges and universities across the state.

On Jan. 26, Blunt announced his Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative, a public-private partnership concerning the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, or MOHELA.

“MOHELA is a financial institution chartered by the government of the state of Missouri,” said Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) “It’s a government-owned, not-for-profit entity that was stipulated for the purpose of participating in the secondary market to finance student loans. “

Nodler said MOHELA, created by the general assembly in 1981, has been a helpful to the state ad beneficial to Missouri students.

The Initiative will involve a liquidation of MOHELA’s secondary market portfolio.

Nodler said the transaction will utilize MOHELA’s asset base to gain an “immediate cash benefit.” The money received from the transaction will be invested into capital improvements at colleges and universities across the state.

This is how the health sciences building will receive funding. The building carries an estimated cost of $24 million. The Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative would provide $19.2 million for the project.

The building would be the new home to Southern’s health science programs, providing new classrooms and clinical space.

“It will have also a tremendous effect on the medical industry in this area,” said University President Dr. Julio León.

Rep. Bryan Stevenson (R-Joplin) said he believes capital investments are the best use for this proposal.

“We are taking a great step forward to make higher education affordable and accessible to students of this state,” Stevenson said.

Nodler said the health sciences building is one of four higher education construction projects that has already received state funding commitments. He said the money frees up several projects that have also been delayed for budgetary reasons.

He said the initiative would represent $350 million to $400 million for the state, with some estimates as high as $600 million.

“Another part of the proposal would be to setup a trust fund for scholarships that would be in the amount of $100 million,” Nodler said.

Stevenson said he believes in the plan, though it is still in its early stages. He said people may hear different versions from different people, but the plan is still good.

Both Stevenson and Nodler said the initiative will not affect the ability of students to find student loans.

MOHELA has never originated student loans.

The Initiative would also create the Missouri Discovery Alliance. This would enhance the growth and development of technology businesses near college campuses. $5 million of the Initiative would fund the Alliance.

On Jan. 31, MOHELA announced it endorsed Blunt’s proposal and will place select assets on sale to the open market. This would not include loans MOHELA backs for Missouri college students.

Stevenson said other states have been successful with similar projects.

To date, Virginia, Maine, Rhode Island, Washington and Colorado have implemented similar programs.

The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center said the proposal will create about 4,880 jobs and an estimated $554.2 million in new activity per year.

“This will be a major economic stimulant in the state of Missouri,” Nodler said.