JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House passed legislation Thursday that would eventually give students at public and private colleges the same amount of money for state scholarships.
The legislation also would lower the grade-point average required to receive the Access Missouri scholarship during the first two years of college. The Access Missouri program is the state's primary need-based scholarship.
The House passed the bill 145-10, sending it to the Senate.
Sponsoring Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, said changes are needed to the program's GPA requirements because some students lose their scholarships while they are struggling with the transition to college life.
Under the legislation, students would need to maintain a 2.0 GPA for the first two years of school and a 2.5 GPA for the remaining years. The state currently requires a 2.5 GPA for all four years.
Thomson said up to 1,700 students could renew their scholarship next school year because of the GPA change.
Access Missouri scholarships for students at private colleges currently are almost twice as large as those given to students at public universities. The program provides up to $4,600 a year to students at private higher education institutions and $2,150 a year to students at state universities.
The differences are meant to account for the higher tuition charged by private institutions and state money appropriated to public universities.
The bill would provide scholarships for students at all four-year institutions — both public and private — at $2,850 a year beginning in 2014. A similar measure is being considered in the Senate.
Students from private colleges have lobbied the legislature against the proposed change in scholarship amounts. Some lawmakers said Thursday that private school students need more scholarship money because the state appropriates taxpayer money to public schools.
"They're already getting state support before they apply for a scholarship, before they pay for tuition," said Rep. Tim Flook, R-Liberty.
Thomson said some of the concerns about the bill stemmed from the perception that private school students would receive less funding.
"It's still going to be the same number of students, but now when they get approved, if they choose to stay in Missouri, they'll get an equal amount wherever they decide to go," Thomson said.