Editorial: University presidents discuss future of Access Missouri

Gov. Jay Nixon proposed cutting scholarships for private school students.

Ten university and college presidents met at UM system President Gary Forsee's home to discuss the distribution of Access Missouri scholarships. Department of Higher Education Commissioner Robert Stein facilitated the meeting.

Under the Access Missouri program, the maximum scholarship amount for students attending private schools is $4,600 and $2,150 for students in public universities.

The presidents' meeting took place less than a week after Gov. Jay Nixon announced a proposal to cut the scholarships for private school students.

The meeting resulted in an agreement on eight principles concerning the design of the need-based scholarships, according to a Missouri Department of Higher Education news release. Attendees agreed public and private scholarship award amounts should be equalized and support the choices of Missouri students.

According to the release, the university presidents proposed students enrolled in the Access Missouri scholarship program not be affected by changes in scholarship award amounts.

The task force acknowledged the importance of state support for a student's chosen university regardless of institution.

"I think it's a real positive sign that this very diverse group could come together and agree on eight principles given the variety of their viewpoints," MDHE spokeswoman Kathy Love said. "If the spirit of cooperation and commitment to the state's needs and the students' needs goes forward, then I think that the students will benefit from the collective alignment of (the task force's) ideas."

The debate continues to focus on the ideal way to distribute scholarships within the $95 million budget.

In his State of the University address, Forsee spoke out against giving more money to private school students than public school students under the Access Missouri scholarship program.

"(Eliminating private school scholarships) is not a reasonable decision," Central Methodist University spokesman Don Cullimore said. "We have more than 500 students who receive the Access Missouri scholarships. Students would either have to attend a public campus or drop out of school. It greatly limits the student's choices and opportunities."

Two bills to equalize award amounts for public and private four-year institutions, one for the Missouri Senate and one for the Missouri House of Representatives, have been submitted.

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