JEFFERSON CITY — In an effort to help more Missouri students attend college, the Coordinating Board for Higher Education voted recently to freeze the maximum amount of need-based scholarship dollars available to each student.
Funding for the state’s need-based scholarships — administered through Missouri Guarantee Program — has remained at $8 million for three academic years. Traditionally, the commission has increased the limit on aid available per student to help students keep up with rising tuition rates.
But new Higher Education Commissioner Gregory Fitch recommended the board not increase the maximum aid level above the current $6,200 yearly per student so that more students could receive financial help with the limited dollars available. Since becoming commissioner a month ago, Fitch has said one of his chief goals is to find ways to make Missouri’s colleges more accessible — especially for low-income students.
The coordinating board also approved establishing a statewide task force composed of college representatives, lawmakers and department staff to study ways to restructure the state’s financial aid program to simplify it. The task force is expected to make its recommendations in October.
The College Guarantee Program — established in 1998 — provides scholarships to Missouri college students based on financial need. To qualify, students must have a grade-point average of 2.5 or higher, a score of 20 or higher on the ACT college entrance exam (or an SAT score of 950 or higher) and participate in extracurricular activities. During the 2003-04 school year, 3,994 students received scholarships.
Matt Pierson, legislative director for the Associated Students of the University of Missouri and an MU student, said the board’s decision will hurt students struggling to keep up with climbing tuition rates.
“Obviously our reaction is incredible disappointment,” Pierson said. “I can understand why they had to do that with funding concerns because everyone is in a crunch right now, but nobody is in a bigger crunch than students.”
Tuition is to increase 3.5 percent at the University of Missouri System next year. Despite student concerns, UM system President Elson Floyd supports the board’s approach, system spokesman Joe Moore said.
“That is something that President Floyd supports because this limit is being done with the understanding that we need to review all state funding for financial aid programs within the context of defining need,” Moore said.