JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate is considering a bill to toughen attendance requirements for students receiving state-sponsored college scholarships in an effort to encourage them to graduate on time.
Students would have to be continuously enrolled for a certain number of credit hours each semester to continue receiving state aid. The legislation would require the recipients of three Missouri scholarship programs — Bright Flight, Access Missouri and the A+ Schools Program — to finish their degrees on time or potentially lose their state aid.
"The longer students stay in school the more likely they are to drop out and the more likely they are to increase their student debt. Time is the enemy here," said sponsoring Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg.
The legislation would require students in the A+ program to complete 48 credit hours over two years to remain eligible for aid. The A+ program awards students from participating high schools a scholarship to cover tuition costs at public community colleges and technical schools.
Starting in the 2014-2015 academic year, recipients of Access Missouri would need to be enrolled in 24 hours of classes their first year and 30 hours in subsequent years to maintain eligibility. Access Missouri is a need-based scholarship for full-time Missouri college students to attend a four-year public or private institution. A similar requirement would be established for Bright Flight scholarship recipients.
The bill would also reduce the total number of semesters a student could qualify for state aid from Access Missouri. Currently, students can draw down aid for 10 semesters of college, but the legislation would lower that to eight.
"This would be a step in the wrong direction if we are truly trying to meet our state goals of increasing college attendance," said Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau.
Wallingford opposed that part of the bill and added that many students take five years or longer to complete a college degree. He tried on the Senate floor to remove that provision, but the effort failed. Another amendment was adopted to allow students on all three scholarship programs to seek waivers from the new attendance requirements for "serious and unusual personal circumstances." There are also exemptions for military members, students with disabilities and students working in state or federal government.
The measure has already received first-round approval and the Senate is expected to send it to the House next week. With only three weeks left in the legislative session, the measure's chances are hurt by a lack of time, but Pearce said he is still optimistic about it passing.