Missouri Scholars Academy faces budget cuts in 2010

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 5:21 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 11, 2009
Ed Grooms leads Missouri Scholars Academy students through warm-up exercises during an Acting for Non-Actors class on Tuesday. The Academy is held at MU and is in its 25th year.

Aubreyanna Wenzl is from Braymer. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect hometown.

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.  


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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.

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Ellis Smith June 10, 2009 | 6:48 a.m.

This question has been asked before: Have those who administer this program talked with another UM System campus that runs very successful summer camp programs for high school students?

Those programs are NOT grant financed, and there's a reasonable fee for students who attend them. There is also a funded endowment used to pay fees of a number of students each year whose families cannot afford the fee.

In other words the camps are operated pretty much without cost to Missouri taxpayers, which just might be how it SHOULD be.

Another question, also asked before: When are each of the four campuses of this multi-campus university going to stop operating as if the other three campuses don't exist?

(Report Comment)
Kyle Buschkoetter July 12, 2009 | 12:56 p.m.

I agree, that solution looks great from the outside, but from the inside, it could use some work. I went to MSA this year, and I wouldn't have been able to go had there been any kind of fee. To be honest, we probably wouldn't have even looked into an endowment given the tedious steps that are always involved those kinds of things. This is the same situation that most of the kids in my classes would have faced. When asked if they would be at MSA had there been a $1500 tuition fee (which would be required to make up for the money from the legislature) very few said yes.

All the other solutions that come up (cutting the amount of kids from 330 to 100, cutting the amount of time from 3 weeks to 1 week, etc.) are things that would kill the amazing social interaction at MSA. With 330 people, the kids met someone new every day. This is one of the very unique things about the academy, and it allows those smart kids who are socially challenged (and we all know there are a lot of them) to come out of their shells and learn how to interact with people. Had the academy been less than three weeks, there wouldn't have been enough time to make lasting relationships and become great friends with the people there.

Just think about how much power 330 of the brightest kids in Missouri have when they become best friends with each other. There is no doubt that MSA brings wonderful things to the state of Missouri.

All in all, $500,000 isn't even a drop in the bucket for Missouri taxpayers. With the population of Missouri at almost 6 million, everyone pays $.09 a year to finance one of the most worthy programs in Missouri. A dime isn’t too much for something that will improve the state of Missouri countless numbers of times for years to come.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 12, 2009 | 2:22 p.m.

As someone who attended the second MSA (1986 I think), it was a good experience but there's no way my parents could have afforded to pay for my attendance. Maaaany years later, I'm not convinced the cost to the state really was of benefit to myself or the other scholars, but it was certainly more educational than Boys' State.

(Report Comment)
Miranda Cover April 6, 2011 | 8:35 p.m.

Missouri Scholars Academy really impacted my life for the better and I had to pay 500 dollars in 2010. My family could barely do that. If it had been 1500 dollars I would have over looked it, just like I do the other camps that all the Anti-MSAer support. MSA made me who I am today. I also commented on the other Missourian article in more detail.

(Report Comment)

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