JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Southeast Missouri State University would be barred from recruiting high school students eligible for free community college tuition from the state's A+ Schools program under legislation the Senate debated Thursday.
However, university officials expect little practical impact should it become law.
The bill, which includes various provisions related to higher education, would also make Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville the fifth campus of the University of Missouri system.
The A+ Schools program provides eligible graduates of designated high schools with two years of free tuition to a community college or technical school. The program doesn't cover tuition at four-year universities.
However, Southeast, Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield and Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph do offer associate degree programs to A+ students in conjunction with other institutions.
Under the bill sponsored by state Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, students could still receive discounted tuition to attend those three schools under the program, but the institutions would be prohibited from marketing that fact to potential students.
"There is concern among community colleges that four-year institutions are taking away their students," Shields said.
Existing law allows Southeast and the other two schools to partner with two-year institutions under the A+ program because no community colleges are located nearby.
Randy Shaw, dean of the School of Polytechnic Studies, said the bill would have little effect on Southeast's participation in the program.
"We don't do any large scale recruiting," Shaw said.
He added that students who use A+ funds to attend Southeast generally live outside of commuting distance to the two nearest community colleges -- Three Rivers in Poplar Bluff and Mineral Area in Park Hills.
Graduates of Cape Girardeau, Oak Ridge, Perryville and Sikeston high schools are among those eligible for the A+ program, provided they meet certain academic criteria.
Although he doesn't see a problem with the current situation, Shields said he is offering the restriction as a compromise to mollify the community colleges that raised the issue.
The Senate set aside the bill without taking action but could return to it next week.
The proposed merger between Northwest and the University of Missouri garnered little debate on Thursday. Officials at the involved institutions first floated the concept last year, but lawmakers said they needed more information before pushing forward. Southeast officials have said they have no interest in joining the University of Missouri system.