State board endorses plan to revamp college aid

Friday, December 9, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The state Coordinating Board for Higher Education endorsed a plan Thursday to shorten the length of college scholarships so that money can be spread among additional students.

The suggestion is one of several from a task force report that would revamp the way Missouri administers its financial aid programs. Many of changes would require legislative approval.

The report calls for the consolidation of financial needs scholarships under one program and the creation of standard grade-point-average benchmarks for students to retain their scholarships. It also recommends the state spend more money on student financial aid.

Last school year, the state provided more than $40 million in college scholarships to a little more than 25,000 students. Those figure have declined slightly in recent years, as one scholarship program was phased out and the rest were held steady.

In the meantime, student tuitions have risen significantly in response to state funding cuts to colleges and universities.

Missouri provides scholarships based on both academic merit and student financial need.

The Bright Flight scholarship provides $2,000 annually to Missouri high school graduates scoring in the top 3 percent on the ACT or SAT college entrance exams, regardless of their financial need.

The two leading needs-based grants are the Charles Gallagher and Missouri College Guarantee Program. The Gallagher grant is based strictly on financial need while the Guarantee Program also requires minimum high school grade point averages, college entrance exam scores and extracurricular activities.

The report recommends merging the Gallagher and Guarantee programs for the 2007-2008 school year, eliminating the high school academic criteria from the Guarantee program and requiring a college GPA of 2.5 to maintain any of the scholarships.

The report also recommends that the duration of all scholarships be shortened to eight semesters instead of 10.

Doing that could save between $600,000 and $800,000 in the Bright Flight program, which could be redirected to provide financial need scholarships to as many as 500 additional students.

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