The MOHELA plan

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

There is considerable consensus that a plan to sell a portion of a valuable state asset -- student loans -- and use the proceeds to fund building projects at state universities while protecting the needs of students is a good one.

Missouri has what is generally regarded as one of the largest and best-run state-sponsored student-loan programs in the nation, with currently $5 billion in loans. The agency that handles these loans and provides students with low interest is called the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, or MOHELA.

By selling up to $5 billion or so of loans over the next few years, MOHELA expects to generate proceeds not only for capital improvements, but also other projects the current stream of state funding doesn't cover. In the process, it is hoped that this building spurt and resulting programs will be a sizable positive force on Missouri's economy.

The state's Coordinating Board for Higher Education has ranked capital-improvement projects for state universities for years. Many of those projects are on a list proposed by Gov. Matt Blunt to be funded by the MOHELA proceeds. One of the few projects on the CBHE's list that is missing from the governor's plan is the state's portion of the funding for Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus, currently under construction. The River Campus for the visual and performing arts will have a performing arts center, museum and other facilities related to the arts.

So far, the governor's list includes $5 million in funding from the MOHELA loan sales to be used for an $18.6 million life-science incubator at SEMO, one of several such incubators planned around the state to establish Missouri as a leader in this high-tech research and development.

Local legislators say they will try to get $17.2 million of River Campus funding added to the list. Governor Blunt has indicated he will be receptive to listening to funding ideas from legislators across the state. We support the idea of including the River Campus in the MOHELA funding, if that's the best way for the state to fulfill its promises regarding this project.

Both the use of MOHELA assets to generate large amounts of funding for major projects and the give-and-take process that will ultimately decide which projects get the money have the potential to have a major impact on Missouri's economy without a tax increase. That's smart for Missouri, and smart for Missourians too.

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