Bill seeks scholarship fairness

Brennan Stebbins

With Gov. Jay Nixon in support, legislation has been introduced that changes financial assistance amounts from the Access Missouri program for college students.

Under the current program, students attending four-year private institutions can receive as much as $4,600 from the state, while those attending public colleges are limited to $2,150. The changes would give a maximum of $2,800 to qualifying students, regardless of whether their institution is public or private. It’s a welcome change for many who considered the original discrepancy unfair.

University President Bruce Speck brought up the program last week during testimony to the House Appropriations-Education committee.

“I know there’s a proposal that would make that what I consider fair,” Speck said. “Where a said amount of money would go to students regardless of the institution they went to. It’s important, I think, for us to understand that in terms of funding for higher education, Missouri is 47th in the nation. However, we are fourth in the nation in terms of privates.

“I came from Tennessee so I understand, I think we vied with you (Missouri) many times for that 47th, 48th position,” Speck added. “So I understand what it’s like to come from a poor state, but we certainly never were supporting privates at that level and it seems to me there’s an issue of fairness. I think the proposal to have fixed sums that are equal is a good idea for Access Missouri.”

Gov. Jay Nixon proposed a funding increase for the program of nearly $2 million in his FY 2010 budget, which would bring the amount to more than $93 million. The program provides scholarships to Missouri residents based on expected family contribution.

State Rep. Kevin Wilson (R-Neosho), a member of the Appropriations-Education Committee, co-sponsored a bill in the House to equalize the scholarship amounts.

“I had a constituent email me and they said they were against it because they went to a private school and wanted to get as much money as they could,” Wilson said. “That’s fine, but there are good public school alternatives and that’s a choice you make by saying ‘I want to go to a private school, I’m willing to pay more to go to a private school.’ But if we’re talking about taxpayer dollars, then I would think they would be upset if we were subsidizing private schools at a higher level than we are students who go to public schools.

“I hope it goes somewhere, because I think it’s just fairness,” Wilson added. “When it was originally set up, it was set up to help kids with private schools, but I didn’t agree with that.”

According to the Southwest Baptist University student newspaper, The Omnibus, nearly 600 students at the school receive scholarships from the Access program, totaling $1.28 million. To qualify for an Access scholarship, a student must have an expected family contribution of $12,000 or less.