The Maneater

Bright Flight Promise Program proposed to award more students with higher sums of money, as long as they reside in Missouri after graduation

Bright Flight Promise Program proposed to award more students with higher sums of money, as long as they reside in Missouri after graduation

A Missouri House representative has proposed changes to the Missouri Higher Education Academic Scholarship Program, commonly known as Bright Flight, that would require students to reside in the state after graduation.

The current Bright Flight scholarship is “a merit-based program that encourages top-ranked high school seniors to attend approved Missouri postsecondary schools,” according to the Missouri Department of Higher Education website.

Missouri House Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick helped author and introduced House Bill 2408, which replaces the Bright Flight scholarship with the Bright Flight Promise Program. Fitzpatrick said the intent of the bill is to keep high-achieving students in Missouri for post-secondary education and beyond so they can contribute to the Missouri economy.

“The goal of the bill is...to invest more in our top students in the state so that we can retain that talent and to create an incentive in the program to remain in the state after you graduate so that we can have [students] available for employers in the state who want to give [them] a job,” Fitzpatrick said.

The Bright Flight Promise Program offers students up to the full cost of tuition and mandatory fees each year the student is enrolled full-time. However, the student would need to complete loan counseling and a promissory note to receive the aid, which is typical of federal loans.

The bill says that after graduation, to maintain the scholarship as a grant and not a loan, a student must reside in Missouri within 12 months after graduation and maintain “qualified employment” within the calendar year after graduation, along with at least four consecutive years thereafter. “Qualifying employment” is defined as an adjusted gross income of at least $10,000.

2017 and 2018 test-takers were required to receive a 31 American College Test score or an Scholastic Aptitude Test score of at least an 800 in both critical reading and math. Qualifying students are eligible to receive up to $3,000 per year under the current Bright Flight scholarship. No application is necessary, and approval letters are automatically sent to qualifying students.

Currently, students who are Missouri residents and U.S. citizens that achieve in the top three percent of scores for the ACT or SAT in Missouri qualify for the Bright Flight scholarship. The Bright Flight Promise Program would expand the number of students who are eligible to receive the grant to the top 5 percent.

For the 2016-2017 fiscal year, 1,998 undergraduate students at MU received Bright Flight aid, totalling $5,703,161 in grants. Students can choose to receive a lesser amount of the grant than offered. Bright Flight is the largest program funded by state resources at MU that is merit-based.

Nick Prewett, executive director of Student Financial Aid at MU since 2012, said he has heard feedback from students regarding the bill, and some say that the promise to stay in Missouri can be a cause for concern.

“The feedback that we’ve had from some of our students is it’s tough to turn down free money but the commitment on the backend gives them cause for concern,” Prewett said.

Students who wish to keep aid from the Bright Flight Promise Program as a grant instead of a loan will be required to submit proof of residency and qualified employment on or before the first Monday of the second May after the student’s graduation, along with each year after.

If these qualifications are not met, the grant is turned into a loan at the beginning of the student’s 12 month grace period. It will become a Direct Subsidized Undergraduate Loan, which means the federal government pays the interest on this loan during said grace period.

Moving from Missouri at any point in the approximately five years after graduation will not necessitate a full payment from the student. For each period of 12 month residency, the loan amount will be reduced by one-fourth.

Fitzpatrick said he does not know the specific motivations of students that oppose the bill, but that students should be appreciative of the funds they are receiving from the state.

“Your state wants to provide you more money but we also want you to participate in our economy after you graduate,” Fitzpatrick said. “Things aren't usually free so I would encourage them to be grateful for the funds that we’re willing to invest in their education.”

Freshman Madeline Layne received the Bright Flight scholarship for the 2017-2018 school year. Layne said she would have had to take out more students loans for her education without the aid of the current Bright Flight scholarship. She also said, though the new promise program would fund full tuition for qualifying students, she does not encourage the change.

“I still don't really support it because if you're going to give someone something based on their ACT score which is something that they've earned they should be able to keep it [and] do what they want with it with their education, rather than forcing them to stay in the state,” Layne said.

Missouri taxes will continue to fund this program and the funds will be allocated through the state treasury. HB 2408 also creates the Bright Flight Promise Program Fund in the Missouri State Treasury Office.

Prewett expressed concern for regarding the administrative aspect of the Bright Flight Promise Program. There are no provisions in the bill regarding how students will be notified that their grant has turned into a loan, and no reminders of what paperwork to turn in to receive grant benefits.

“We’re never gonna turn down free money or opportunities for aid for students, but at the same time we want to make sure the students are well-educated to make the best choices that are out there,” Prewett said.

HB 2408 was introduced on Feb. 7 and has gone through the second reading, was referred to a committee for higher education, and has completed a public hearing. It is not on the Missouri House of Representatives calendar as of April 30.

Edited by Morgan Smith | mosmith@themaneater.com

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