Schools aim for consensus on future of student aid programs

| Staff Reporter

Students from the University of Missouri - St. Louis stand near as Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announces a new agreement with Missouri’s public, four-year colleges and universities to freeze tuition for in-state, undergraduate students for the 2010-2011 school year. Governor Jay Nixon is pushing to exclude private school students from both the Access Missouri and Bright flight scholarship programs. (Courtesy Of Governor Nixon’s Office)

In order to settle the current battle regarding the distribution of scholarship money in the Access Missouri program, officials from 10 universities have gathered to try to reach a consensus on the issue.

“The public universities decided that the current distribution of scholarship money is unfair to their students involved in the program,” said Rose Windmiller, director of state relations and local government affairs and Washington University’s representative in the 10-person group.

Currently, the scholarship awards a maximum of $1,000 and a minimum of $300 to students enrolled in two-year Missouri public schools. It is giving a maximum of $2,150 and a minimum of $1,000 to students at four-year Missouri public schools and Linn State Technical College. Additionally, students enrolling at Missouri private schools can obtain a maximum of $4,600 and a minimum of $2,000.

“There is a formula approved by approximately 20 financial aid officials from different schools to calculate the amount given to students at different types of schools,” Windmiller said. “All the participating schools are subdivided into the three categories, and the average cost for each type of school is determined and applied to the formula. The scholarship money comes down to covering roughly 20 to 25 percent of the average tuition for each type of school. The formula made sure that the percentage covered is uniform despite the discrepancy in the cost of each type of school.”

According to Windmiller, there are two bills currently being reviewed in the Missouri Senate and House of Representatives that would equalize the scholarship money to $2,850 for all schools participating in the program. In addition, Gov. Jay Nixon is pushing to exclude private school students from both the Access Missouri and Bright Flight programs.

There are currently 159 students from Washington University in the program. In addition, 403 students are part of the Bright Flight program, a merit-based award given to Missouri high school graduates attending a Missouri university.

“I am part of the Bright Flight program and I do not agree with Governor Nixon’s proposal,” sophomore Helen Clawitter said. “I understand where he is coming from with the current economic crisis and tight budget, but I feel that it is unfair for the governor to direct students to go to a certain type of school, and it is unfair for students who prefer to go to private schools versus public ones.”

Wash. U. is opposed to the governor’s plans.

“Washington University’s position on Governor Nixon’s proposal is the same with all the other participating private schools in Missouri in that we oppose this proposal and hope that the scholarship money distribution will stay the same at their current numbers,” Windmiller said.

In a statement regarding Nixon’s proposal, the University said: “State student aid programs, whether need- or merit-based, are designed to encourage Missouri students to attend a Missouri institution. Over 15,000 Missouri students who are eligible for the Bright Flight or Access Program have chosen to attend an independent institution.  Governor Nixon’s proposal would force these students to attend a public institution—if a seat is available, or leave the state of Missouri for an education, or perhaps forgo the dream of going to college altogether. Many of Missouri’s public institutions are already at capacity, and it is doubtful that the state’s public colleges and universities could absorb all 15,000 students currently attending a Missouri independent college.”

Access Missouri is a need-based scholarship awarded to Missouri residents who are pursuing an undergraduate degree at a participating Missouri school. In particular, recipients cannot pursue a degree or certificate in theology or divinity. The scholarship requires recipients to maintain at least a 2.5 grade-point average to renew the reward each subsequent year until graduation.