Though still on the legislative table, a bill sponsored by Rep. John Wright, D-Rocheport, would incentivize donations to public scholarship funds.
Existing state funding for higher education has declined by 30 percent since the 1990s, Wright said. To remedy that, House Bill 2122 would set aside $10 million every year to fully match private donations to public university and college scholarship funds, starting next year.
“Our state has been allocating more and more of its resources to different areas of state government by virtue of tax credits, as opposed to direct appropriations,” Wright said. “So if that is going to be part of the way that the state chooses to allocate its resources, I think it makes sense to allocate some of those resources to higher education, which is an area that has been underserved by the budget process over the last 15 years or so.”
So far, Wright said he has heard few negative responses from legislators and Missourians alike, and expects there to be bipartisan support for his bill when it comes up for vote.
Concern, though, was raised for smaller schools — colleges and universities that may not have donors as regular as those who patronize, among others, the University of Missouri System. As the bill’s appropriation would be capped at $10 million, the funds would be doled out on a first-come, first-served basis, potentially shutting out those smaller schools in favor of larger donation powerhouses.
But Wright said that his bill would provide new incentives for donors to any school, perhaps especially so for smaller ones.
“It’s encouragement for college development offices to get out and shake the trees within their own alumni networks,” Wright said. “It gives them a great selling point to their alumni networks, to say ‘hey, we’ve got a great opportunity here to magnify the impact of any contribution you might make to our scholarship programs.’”
Tom Hiles, vice chancellor for university development and alumni relations, said he agreed.
“My sense would be that if a donor already has an interest in philanthropy and has an interest in scholarships, this would have a great appeal,” Hiles said.
Though some donors may not know of Wright’s tax credit proposal, Hiles said the university intends to target a specific audience.
“Once we have the details, we would have the opportunity to market that to a certain group of donors who either traditionally support scholarships or we think would have an interest generally,” Hiles said.
Last year, MU took in nearly $24 million in donations toward scholarship funds, Director of Advancement Services Tom Boren said in an email — a number that could crack $30 million should Wright’s bill become law.
“We certainly encourage the legislature to consider this,” Hiles said.