Missouri Promise aims to pay tuition for some students

The plan would be funded by raising the tax on tobacco.

In January of this year, President Barack Obama proposed a rollback of a total of 529 college savings plan tax benefits.

In February of this year, Missouri Treasurer Clint Zweifel opposed the rollback and proposed a solution to the rising costs of higher education, a solution for which UM System President Tim Wolfe publicly voiced his support.

"President Wolfe has made the year 2015 a year to explore a new theme, which is to focus attention on moving the University of Missouri and the state of Missouri itself from good to great,” UM System Chief Communications Officer John Fougere said. “The state of Missouri currently watches upwards of 40 percent of our high school students that achieve GPA's of 3.0 or higher neglect to attend colleges in Missouri, and what a waste that is for our state.”

In an effort to promote success and to broaden higher education opportunities for Missouri high school students, Zweifel has created what he calls the “Missouri Promise.”

If Missouri students achieve a 3.0 GPA in high school, perform continuous service to their communities and continue to maintain a 3.0 in their college curriculum, the state of Missouri will pay full or reduced tuition and fees for applicable students to attend Missouri colleges.

“Missouri Promise is about creating a culture of expectations, one that includes an element of responsibility for both parents and students,” Zweifel said in an original opinion piece published in the St. Louis Dispatch “It empowers students early on to work hard, get good grades and demonstrate good citizenship.”

Zweifel went further to explain that “when we encourage meaningful investment in families, we also make a promise to Missouri employers that we will have a ready supply of high-quality human capital available to compete in the global workforce.”

Funding for Missouri’s higher education system is 46 percent less than neighboring states, Zweifel said. Furthermore, Missouri ranks in the bottom fifth nationally in funding given to higher education.

“Eighty percent of the country is working harder to send their students to college than we are in Missouri,” Zweifel said. “Needless to say, there is a lot of room for improvement.”

The college enrollment rate of high school graduates directly from Missouri high schools is 61.4 percent, according to research done by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

Nationally, Missouri’s 61.4 percent places the state 31st out of all 50 states, ranking 1.1 percent below the United States average of 62.5 percent.

In the same vein, according to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, Missouri’s most recent rate of unemployment is 5.5 percent, equal to the national rate reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Data.

According to a study released by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, nearly 60 percent of American jobs now require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Careers in education, computer and mathematical science, architecture, arts, design, sports, media, healthcare, legal, social services, and community and social services occupations, etc, show less than 10 percent of those working in these fields have a high school degree or less.

The top three career options for those lacking higher education are farming, fishing and forestry, with 91 percent of those lacking a bachelor’s degree finding work in this area, building and grounds cleanup and maintenance occupations with 75 percent and construction and extractions occupations with 72 percent.

"As a state, we must recognize that the jobs of the future require higher education," Commissioner of Higher Education David Russell said in a statement for the Missouri Department of Higher Education. "And we must commit to providing the resources needed so all students are equipped to succeed in a knowledge-based economy."

Funding for the Missouri Promise program is presently planned to be taken from a tax hike in tobacco products, a measure that failed in the polls back in 2012. The state of Missouri holds the lowest tobacco tax in the nation, and, with the implementation of a 17-cent per pack tobacco tax being placed on the ballot once more in 2016, Wolfe said that upwards of $300 million can be raised for education.

“It should be a foregone conclusion for every Missourian that if you want to go to college, you can,” Zweifel said. “In order for that to happen, we must send a message to families that for anyone willing to work hard and seize opportunity, we will invest in your success.”

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