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UPDATE: Missouri lawmakers approve changes to scholarships

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 | 5:29 p.m. CDT; updated 8:47 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Scholarships could increase for students at Missouri's public universities but decrease for those attending private schools under legislation sent to Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday.

The changes to the Access Missouri scholarship program would take effect for the 2014-15 school year, giving this year's freshmen class a chance to complete their undergraduate degrees without rearranging their budgets.

The Access Missouri program provides aid to about 47,000 students based on financial need, according to figures from the Department of Higher Education. About 30,000 of those students attend public colleges and universities, and 17,000 go to private schools.

When lawmakers created Access Missouri in 2007 to replace several other scholarships, they established a maximum scholarship of $4,600 a year for students at private institutions, $2,150 for students at state universities and $1,000 for those at community colleges.

Supporters said the intent was to cover a roughly equal proportion of students' tuition, as private schools typically cost more than public colleges and universities. But Nixon and some lawmakers whose districts include state universities have pushed to change the program so that it provides an equal amount of money to students at public and private institutions.

Under pressure to reach a compromise, representatives of Missouri's public and private higher education institutions met in March in Columbia and agreed on a framework to adjust the scholarship amounts.

The bill passed Wednesday would raise the maximum scholarship to $1,300 for community college students and set it at $2,850 for students at either public universities or private institutions starting in 2014. The legislation passed the Senate 33-1 on Tuesday and cleared the House 149-5 on Wednesday.

The legislation also would tweak Missouri's "Bright Flight" scholarship, which goes to about 8,200 students who score well on the ACT or SAT college entrance exams. That scholarship historically has been awarded to those scoring in the top 3 percent of Missouri students. Eligibility was to be expanded to the top 5 percent next year under a state law, but Missouri faces a financial shortfall and its budget lacks the money needed for the expansion.

The bill passed Wednesday specifies that the scholarships should go first to the top 3 percent of students when state funding runs short.

Another provision in the legislation would expand an existing exemption to Missouri's open records law with the intent of shielding information about efforts to turn university research into commercial products. While most records for such partnerships would be kept secret, universities would have to release annual reports showing money and benefits paid to or received from the cooperating business or nonprofit group.

Supporters said the open records exception was particularly needed for commercial projects being developed at the MU's nuclear reactor. The provision was crafted in conjunction with the Missouri Press Association.


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