JEFFERSON CITY — Students of higher education feuded over who should receive more scholarship money at a legislative committee meeting Tuesday.
Officials and students from public and private institutions testified before the House Higher Education Committee about a bill moving scholarship money from private college students to those that attend public universities.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff, would make students at public and private schools receive equal Access Missouri scholarship money. Now, private school students can get more money than those who attend public schools.
"Our goal is to make this even and equitable across the board," Kingery said. "We do not begrudge our private institutions. However, especially in the economy today, we'd like to equalize these amounts."
Students in four-year and two-year public institutions now receive a maximum of $2,150 and $1,000 respectively. Students at private institutions can receive up to $4,600.
If the bill passes, the change would not be implemented until the 2014-15 school year. Under the proposal, students at four-year and two-year private and four-year public institutions would receive $2,850. Students attending two-year public institutions would receive $1,250.
MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said while students in private institutions account for 29 percent of the program's participants, they receive nearly 52 percent of the program's funds.
"I can think of no other program that awards students to go to a more expensive institution," Deaton said.
When it comes to providing funds for private institutions, Deaton said Missouri ranks fourth in the nation, but ranks 37th for public education.
Amanda Shelton — Senate Speaker for the Missouri Students Association — said the $700 increase in the public scholarship might seem small, but it would offset costs and allow students to focus more on their studies, instead of working extra jobs or hours to pay for education.
"This $700 is very real to us," Shelton said. "This $700 would have allowed me to quit a second job and take another class."
Higher Education Commissioner Robert Stein testified against the legislation on behalf of his department. It voted 5-1 against the bill in their recommendation to the Higher Education Committee.
"They believe more process and dialog should occur before changing the law," Stein said.
Marianne Inman, president of Central Methodist University, said students at public schools receive more money from the state in separate funding.
"That is well more than twice the amount for students at the private institutions," Inman said.
A large number of students showed up to protest the bill.
"I started realizing how ridiculous this bill is," Austin Sailors, a student at College of the Ozarks said. "I'm starting to think alumni at MU wrote this bill."
He also said implementing the bill later than now is a scheme to ensure that the opponents will graduate and move on.
"The whole waiting for four years is a ploy to shut us students up," Sailors said.
The Higher Education Committee will likely discuss the bill next week.