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2009 May 3 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Mo. Senate Endorses Plan To Expand Scholarships

Mo. Senate Endorses Plan To Expand Scholarships

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The state Senate has endorsed Gov. Jay Nixon’s plan to expand Missouri’s scholarships by offering four years of free tuition to students who start at community colleges and then transfer to state universities.

The legislation builds upon Missouri’s existing A+ Schools Program, which was created in 1993.

That program provides free community college tuition to graduates from certain high schools who have maintained at least a 2.5 grade point average, achieved 95 percent attendance and performed at least 50 hours of volunteer mentoring.

The bill would open up the program to students from any public high school while eliminating the mentoring requirement. That’s expected to cost the state about $7 million.

For recipients of A+ scholarships who complete an associate degree and maintain a B average, the legislation would authorize two additional years of free tuition at a state university.

That expansion is projected to cost about $40 million.

“We’re starting to lag behind on students who have higher education degrees,” said sponsoring Sen. Rob Mayer, a Republican. “For Missouri to continue to move forward in economic development, we’re going to have to educate a greater number of our students.”

Nixon named the scholarship proposal the Missouri Promise while campaigning last year for governor. He described it as a “pathway to a debt-free, four-year degree for middle-class families.”

“By putting a four-year degree within reach of more Missouri students, we will ensure that our state has the highly trained, highly qualified work force necessary to lead our economy into the 21st century,” Nixon said in a written statement praising the Senate’s vote.

Under the bill, scholarships awarded through the program only would be available after all other financial aid is applied.

If lawmakers do not authorize enough funding for all potential grants, scholarships for students at two-year schools would be given first. After that, awards could be reduced equally for all students.

The Senate also defeated an attempt to equalize funding amounts for public- and private-school students under Access Missouri, the state’s main financial needs-based scholarship program.

Access Missouri currently offers maximum yearly scholarships of $4,600 to students at four-year private colleges and universities and $2,150 to students at Missouri’s public universities.

Republican Sen. Kurt Schaefer said it is unfair for students attending private schools to receive more in state assistance, because such institutions often have larger endowments and are able to provide more financial aid.

Schaefer lives in Columbia, which is home to the University of Missouri’s flagship campus.

Schaefer’s amendment would have set the maximum Access Missouri scholarship amount at $2,850 for students of both public and private universities.

Critics said the change could have hurt students who want to attend private schools.

“Define equality upwards, not downwards,” said Republican Sen. Jason Crowell.

 “I’d just as soon raise everyone up to $4,600.” 

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