Proposed Missouri Promise program earns support of students, parents

Monday, February 2, 2009 | 5:33 p.m. CST; updated 11:24 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

COLUMBIA — Education is important to Melissa Tague. College may be an expensive undertaking, but she doesn't intend for her son's experience to end with high school. Tague is not looking for a free ride. In fact, she intends for her son, Cyrus, a junior at Hickman High School, to make his own way.  

"I want him to earn his education," Melissa Tague said. "Education is important for everybody because it prepares you for life with more than just a set of job skills.”

She sees the proposed Missouri Promise Program as a valuable opportunity for her son to carry on his education.

Gov. Jay Nixon proposed the program to make college more affordable for middle-class families. Scott Holste, a spokesman for Nixon, said “there have been too many financial hurdles” for students at two-year colleges to continue at a four-year institution. He said theMissouri Promise is an “opportunity (that) will boost enrollment at four-year colleges.”

Under the program, students taking advantage of the A+ Schools Program would have the opportunity to sign a contract with the state, promising to keep a 3.0 GPA while enrolled in a community college, committing to 50 hours of community service per year and staying away from discipline issues. By fulfilling these requirements, students receive scholarship money.

After two years at a community or vocational college on an A+ Program scholarship, a student can transfer to a four-year public institution in Missouri to get a bachelor’s degree with Missouri Promise paying for the tuition.

Laurie Hoff, the A+ Program coordinator at Hickman, feels the Missouri Promise would compel more families like the Tagues to encourage their students to join the program.

“When parents hear about (Missouri Promise), they may require their students to do the A+ Program, even though it’s voluntary,” she said. “With this four-year option in the mix, they’ll say, ‘No, you’re going to sign up.’”

Hoff said she thinks the Missouri Promise would help parents become more active in their students’ lives. Since the A+ Program demands a 95 percent attendance average over four years in high school, Hoff said, “parents will pay closer attention to that if it’s going to mean a free four-year college education.”

Melissa Tague appreciates the program’s eligibility requirements. The hours her son, Cyrus, spent tutoring for the A+ Program cemented his decision to pursue a teaching career. Tague approves of the Missouri Promise criteria because it will require Cyrus to go class and "bump up the challenge."

Cyrus does not think that the requirements would be difficult to achieve.

“For most students in the A+ Program, the 3.0 would be easy to keep,” he said. “I’ll go through with the extra 50 hours (of community service) to get school paid for.”

Jane Piester, the A+ Program coordinator at Rock Bridge High School, is uncertain about enrollment changes in the program if the Missouri Promise is instituted because she said most Rock Bridge students “go the traditional four-year route.”

“I don’t know how this thing is going to impact us,” she said. “Are people going to want to do the community college route and then the four-year college route?”

While still not sure how the Missouri Promise would affect students at Rock Bridge, Piester said it would be beneficial over all for the students in the A+ Program.

“Most of my students in the program that do do the community college route continue at four-year colleges,” Piester said.

"I'm encouraging my students to participate in the A+ Program because of the potential for them to receive the benefits of the Missouri Promise Program, should it come to pass," Piester said.

Heidi Burris, whose daughter, Allie, is a freshman at Moberly Area Community College on an A+ Program scholarship, would be happy to see the program expanded.

“I think the A+ Program is great, but to think four years and a bachelor’s degree, that would be pretty amazing,” Heidi Burris said. “I think it’s a great program. If she could get in on that, that would be great.”

Allie Burris agrees that the Missouri Promise is a “pretty good deal” because she plans on transferring to a four-year college after finishing at Moberly.

Both mother and daughter want the program to take effect to relieve their financial burdens.

“It’s really nice, not only for me but my parents, because they wouldn't have to pay anything for tuition,” Allie Burris said.  

Nixon mentioned the Missouri Promise in his State of the State speech Jan. 27 and a proposal is available at his Web site, but no formal legislative action has been taken. The program would require $61 million of the state budget, and Nixon spokesman Holste said a specific start date for the Missouri Promise is still unclear at this time.

“At this point it'll be too early to say when the Missouri Promise might take effect,” he said. "But we are hoping for it to go into effect as early as possible."

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