COLUMBIA — The Missouri Scholars Academy, a summer program for gifted high school students, is celebrating its 25th and what might be its final anniversary this year.
Because of budget limitations caused by the economic downturn, the Missouri legislature has decided to cut the joint funding for MSA and the Missouri Fine Arts Academy from $718,306 to $259,000 starting in 2010.
That means that students may have to pay their way into the program if other funding options cannot be found. David Welch, director of gifted education for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said making students pay could nullify the unique opportunity the program provides.
“The kids who come to these academies can’t all afford to go to other summer programs,” Welch said. “For some kids, this is their only shot.”
Other options being considered include shrinking the program to accommodate a smaller number of students or asking for private donations to offset the losses.
Right now, the academy is funded primarily by the state, with minimal help from private donors. The three-week program, which began Sunday, is provided for free for 330 rising high school juniors chosen from high schools throughout Missouri.
Aubreyanna Wenzl, one of the students attending the Missouri Scholars Academy this year, said the program has given her opportunities for growth she has never experienced.
“You're not just learning about subjects, you’re learning about yourself and how to help your community,” Wenzl said.
Wenzl is from the small town of Braymer, where there are limited opportunities for community service, she said. She looks forward to participating in volunteer activities around Columbia and hopes her experience is something she can use to better her hometown.
Many people familiar with MSA endearingly refer to it as “nerd camp,” a phrase that Kendra White, another student participating in MSA this year, has embraced.
“If you wanna be real, we kind of are nerds,” said White, who is from St. Louis. “It's not a bad thing, though.”
White said the environment at the camp is much more conducive to learning than her normal high school experience. “You can have an intelligent, in-depth conversation with the people here," she said. "You don’t have to talk about hair.”
This isn’t the first time the MSA budget has been on the chopping block. Christopher Young, MSA program coordinator, said funding cuts have been proposed for the past five years in the Missouri legislature, but strong alumni support has saved it from losing money.
With the program’s future on the line, alumni could play an important role in keeping the academy alive. In fact, MSA has set up an endowment fund into which people can donate money to help fund the program. Young, a former MSA participant who graduated from MU several years ago, said he thinks it is important to keep the program going, no matter where the money comes from.
“The academy is an investment in our state’s future,” Young said.