COLUMBIA — Missouri lags behind the national average in the number of residents who finish college degrees.
According to U.S. Census data, about 24 percent of Missourians had completed at least a bachelor’s degree in 2006. The national average was 28 percent.
To help improve these percentages, MU unveiled a new program last week that aims to create full scholarships for first-generation college students in Missouri. First-generation students are those who are the first from their family to attend college and earn a degree.
Students will begin benefitting from the scholarships, which are a part of the University of Missouri Flagship Scholars program, this fall.
Eventually, program coordinators hope to identify donors in each of Missouri’s 114 counties and the city of St. Louis to pay for one resident’s education.
Currently, three scholarships have been funded and will be awarded to students in Audrain, Caldwell and Marion counties.
“Here in Audrain county, we are blessed with people who support Mizzou and students seeking a higher education,” said Renee Samm, board member for Audrain County MU Alumni Association.
As more donors are identified and more funds become available, the Flagship Scholars program plans to extend the scholarship statewide. Each year, $15,000 will be awarded to the recipients. The scholarship will pay for room and board, classes, books and other related expenses.
“We know the cost of education is beginning to rise, and it’s critical that the University of Missouri does something to help,” said Jo Turner, director of development for the University of Missouri County Scholars.
Kiplinger.com, a financial Web site, reported that MU students graduate with an average debt of $18,983.
For first-generation students, finding the money to go to college can be difficult.
“I have a lot of grants and scholarships, so school is affordable for me,” said Danielle Copeland, a junior in communications who is the first from her family to attend college.
Copeland said her mother had to work extra hours to pay off debt that her financial aid didn’t cover.
The scholarship will help alleviate some of the pressure placed on families as they try to pay for a child’s college education.
“Having a full ride would benefit a student and a family tremendously,” Copeland said. “I know personally it was hard to pay off debt in the beginning.”
The scholars program must raise $60,000 to fund each county scholarship. Once this amount is received, those students who qualify and who have been accepted will receive an invitation to apply for the full scholarship. Students are required to submit a résumé highlighting leadership and community service, along with an essay. The applicant’s materials are reviewed, and selected students are interviewed. A review committee selects the county winner based on their résumé, essay and interview.
The fall recipients will be announced Thursday.