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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

HB1308 would allow forgivable loans for in-state students

The legislation could go into effect by August.

Feb. 5, 2014

For high-achieving Missouri students, another college financing option could be on its way this year.

The twist: recipients will have to stay in state, working only in Missouri for a set number of years following graduation.

House Bill 1308 would establish a forgivable loan program for college-bound high schoolers on top of the state’s existing Bright Flight scholarship opportunities, which extend financial aid to Missouri students who fall within the top three percent of ACT test-takers.

The additional loan, if passed, would help in-state students manage tuition — again, so long as they take up residence and employment in Missouri. It’s a strategy, said the bill’s sponsor State Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, that could help alleviate a problem that’s plagued Missouri schools for years: brain drain.

“We just don’t want our best people, who are our best resources, leaving the state if at all possible — because once they leave the state, it’s less likely that they will come back here and work,” said Thomson, the chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education.

Thomson’s proposal, which was backed and largely co-sponsored by his fellow representatives on the Higher Education Committee, would enter eligible loan recipients into a contract with the state that would mandate in-state employment for custom, specified lengths of time.

As a result, those recipients wouldn’t have to pay back their loans or the interest those loans accrue during students’ time as undergraduates. It’s a solution, Thomson said, that could minimize student loan debt at little cost to government.

With the Bright Flight program the way it is now, Thomson said, it’s less enticing for Missouri graduates to stay in state. HB1308’s addition of a forgivable loan, which would presumably be made up for through state tax during recipients’ residencies, would make it more affordable, Thomson said, for in-state students to attend a four-year university.

“The whole intent of this is going back to the original point: I would like to keep these kids in state to be productive here, and not everywhere else,” Thomson said.

Thomson cited statistics that showed 2,500 to 2,600 students as eligible for the Bright Flight loan program. Those students, he said, could be a valuable asset to the state.

In Columbia, Missouri Students Association President Mason Schara is a supporter.

“I think that a lot of students aren’t really presented with the concept of staying in Missouri,” Schara said.

An influx of students from MU, he said, could have unforeseen benefits to the state economy.

If HB1308 passes, it would go into effect by the start of the next academic year.

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