House committee considers forgivable loans for Bright Flight students

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 | 6:15 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Legislation that would add loan forgiveness to the existing Bright Flight scholarship was hailed as one way to help keep Missouri's top students from being lured to out-of-state schools.

MU student and staff representatives came to Jefferson City on Tuesday in support of House Bill 1308, which would augment funding for the Higher Education Academic Scholarship Program. 

Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, the sponsor of the bill and chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, said the bill could provide incentive for Missouri’s top high school students not only to stay at in-state universities but also to stay in Missouri after receiving diplomas.

“It’s imperative that we cut down on the so-called brain drain. We’re losing our brightest kids,” Thomson said.

Established in 1986 by the General Assembly, Bright Flight scholarships reward the top 3 percent of Missouri's ACT and SAT score recipients if they choose to attend an in-state university. Initially implemented during the 1987-88 school year, students were awarded $2,000 in scholarships for every year they studied. The annual award amount increased to up to $3,000 in 2009. But the award has not been fully funded, according to the Missouri Department of Higher Education's website.

In 2013, a student with an ACT score of 31 or above or an SAT score of 790 or above in reading and 780 or above in math was qualified to receive $3,000. However, because of insufficient legislative funds, recipients received only $2,500.

One notable change House Bill 1308 would bring is that students in the top 4 percent and 5 percent of scores would no longer be eligible for forgivable $1,000 loans.

House Bill 1308 would implement forgivable loans for Bright Flight scholars up to $20,000 if they work in Missouri for four years after graduating. Under the bill, Bright Flight recipients are eligible for a $5,000 loan on top of the program’s scholarship. If students choose to work out of state before the four-year period ends, the loan must be repaid with interest.

“We feel like after four years, the kids get out and work to establish themselves in the state of Missouri and we are more likely to keep them here,” Thomson said.

According to MU research presented at the hearing, Missouri loses about one-third of Bright Flight-eligible high school graduates to out-of-state schools. The research also estimated that only 37 percent of these qualified students hold a job in Missouri after graduation.

“That competition has increased greatly from out of state,” MU Director of Admissions Barbara Rupp said Tuesday. “Other schools are coming into the state of Missouri and attracting many of our brightest students with their scholarships. This bill would really help address that.”

Nick Prewett, director of MU’s financial aid office, also came out in support of the bill, adding that in-state costs for a four-year degree at MU total just more than $22,000. Representatives from the Associated Students of the University of Missouri and the Missouri Students Association also voiced support.

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