JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's top students could receive a larger scholarship if they stay in the state after graduation day under a financial aid proposal Monday from Gov. Jay Nixon.
The plan would give students who receive Bright Flight scholarships the option for an extra $5,000 annually for agreeing to work full time in Missouri immediately after school. Nixon plans to include an additional $15 million with his recommendations for next year's state budget.
The governor said Monday college affordability is a priority and that the proposal will help students begin careers without significant debt.
"By strengthening this successful scholarship program, we'll keep more of our best and brightest here at home, so they can contribute their talent to our 21st-century economy," Nixon said. "For the state, Bright Flight Boost is a smart investment with a big return in the form of a well-educated, highly-qualified workforce."
The Bright Flight scholarship is awarded based on ACT or SAT scores. The Department of Higher Education reported that students scoring in the top 3 percent now receive $2,500, which is less than the permitted $3,000 maximum. Missouri law also allows students scoring in the top 4 percent and 5 percent to receive up to $1,000 when the top level is fully funded.
Nixon's new proposal would require a score in the top 3 percent and allow students to receive the larger scholarship for four years. Graduates would need to work in Missouri for each year they accepted the enhanced scholarship, and those who leave early would have to pay back whatever remained.
The governor outlined the proposal Monday at Lincoln Preparatory Academy in Kansas City and at Truman State University in Kirksville, where his office said nearly 20 percent of the school's undergraduates receive Bright Flight scholarships. The university president said the proposal is innovative and would help to ensure a workforce that is ready to compete.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer said officials likely need to increase resources for Bright Flight and that he looks forward to working with Nixon, though he noted the governor previously has made cuts to what lawmakers included for the scholarship.
"We've got tremendous Missouri-grown students that are leaving the state and taking their talents and intellectual abilities to other states that are offering them more than we can," said Schaefer, R-Columbia. "That should never be the case."
The proposed bump for merit-based Bright Flight scholarships prompted questions about needs-based Access Missouri.
Faith Sandler, a leader with two St. Louis-area organizations working with low-income students, said Bright Flight should not be the top priority for financial aid. She said there is evidence additional funding would help Access Missouri, which faced cuts in the past.
"The state should be invested in supporting opportunity for all students regardless of their economic circumstance," Sandler said. "The state stands to benefit as much from a student of low-income — or more — receiving a quality education and a degree than the state does by a student who was already well positioned to achieve his degree."
Sandler is the co-chairwoman of St. Louis Graduates, which promotes post-secondary degree completion among low-income and first generation students, and the executive director of the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, a nonprofit organization that awards need-based interest-free loans and grants.