COLUMBIA — In 2000, Christopher Young was between his sophomore and junior years of high school when he came from the rural community of California, Mo., to MU to spend three weeks at the Missouri Scholars Academy, a summer program for academically gifted students.
Young is able to draw a direct line from the experiences he had there — studying education and journalism and interacting with a cross section of peers he otherwise wouldn't have met — to his job today. He works at the Reston, Va., international headquarters of DECA, an association of high school and college students studying marketing, management and entrepreneurship.
"As a (largely) state-funded program, it put everyone on an equal playing field ... because you are selected on the purity of academic performance," said Young, a 2006 MU graduate who majored in educational studies and minored in journalism.
This will be the first summer since 2002 that Young has not worked for MSA, but he has been following the program's funding frustrations from afar. The academy will continue for the 26th year this summer despite having almost two-thirds less state funding than it had in previous years.
For the first time, the traditionally free summer program is requiring that students pay a $500 activity fee to help compensate for budget cuts. Where payment was a problem, the academy has stepped in, co-director Ted Tarkow said.
"We've worked this year with private individuals and with philanthropic foundations so that where financial need is demonstrated ... MSA will be covering all or part of the student activity fee," said Tarkow, associate dean in the College of Arts and Science at MU.
This year, the state is giving a combined $259,000 to the scholars academy at MU and to the fine arts academy held in Springfield. Last year, the academies received $750,000, said Jim Morris, public information director for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The program receives money from other sources, including MU.
Morris said MSA is secure for this year, but he does not know whether it will be held in future summers. The program, from June 13 to July 3, will host 330 scholars this summer as it has done in the past.
“Where we stand right now is that the (Missouri) House has adopted a recommended budget that has no funding for the academy or for the arts academy,” Morris said.
Although the Senate budget committee has adopted the proposal for zero funding, the full Senate has not yet acted.
“There’s a chance that funding could be restored in conference committee if there’s action on the floor of the Senate debate to restore funding for the academies,” Morris said.
However, if both House and Senate adopt the proposal, it would go into effect July 1. This means that the academies would not receive state funding beginning in 2011.
To be considered for admission, students must live in Missouri and be nominated by their public or private high school. They come from all over the state, from no-stoplight towns and major cities.
The aims of the scholars academy are to improve academic skills, increase knowledge of culture, develop understanding of students' abilities and enhance critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
For Young, coming from a high school of 500 students to the campus of a large, research-driven university had a lasting effect.
"It's open to anyone and fosters a diverse marketplace of ideas," Young said. "You build community in three weeks."