Education is an investment in the future of Missouri

Monday, April 14, 2008

By Jason Crowell

Over the past four years, I have worked to ensure that Missouri students have access to affordable, quality higher education. The Missouri Legislature has made great strides in this effort by making more scholarship opportunities available for students and increasing funding for our state universities. The steps we are taking directly benefit students in Southeast Missouri.

Last year, the legislature created the Access Missouri Scholarship Program to level the playing field for scholarship applicants and ensure that Missouri's students receive aid to further their educational goals. While the old needs-based scholarship program only awarded scholarships to 17,000 Missouri students, the Access Missouri program is providing more than 38,000 community college, state university and private college students with scholarships. These scholarships are providing direct help to students in Southeast Missouri who want to attend a college or university. For example, students attending Southeast Missouri State University can receive between $1,000 and $2,150 to go toward their college education. In fact, there are close to 2,000 students receiving Access Missouri scholarships at Southeast this year, compared to only 380 in 2007.

While higher education funding was often cut or withheld during past administrations, we have been able to significantly increase the state higher education budget over the past four years. State funding for Southeast (including early budget recommendations for fiscal year 2009) has increased by $5.2 million since the 2005 fiscal year. This is an 11.94 percent increase for the university. Although tuition increased by 19 percent during a three-year period, tuition caps instituted last year will discourage state universities from increasing tuition at a rate higher than inflation.

In addition, the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative, which was created and implemented last year, reinvested an existing state resource (the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority) to provide $335 million for students at Missouri colleges and universities. Southeast Missouri will benefit from a dental hygiene clinic at Southeast Missouri State University in collaboration with Missouri Southern State University ($173,000), a conservation- and environmental-based business incubator at Southeast ($4.5 million), and an autism diagnosis and treatment center ($2.6 million).

In addition, Southeast's River Campus benefited from $17.2 million in Lewis and Clark funding. This money will go toward meeting the university's financial obligation on bonds the university used to begin construction of the Visual and Performing Arts School before full funding was appropriated. Southeast has already received $16.54 million and will receive the remaining $660,000 next fiscal year. The university's use of debt-financing would have resulted in tuition increases for Southeast students, but we worked to make sure the state provided this unique funding allocation, preventing massive tuition increases.

Education is my highest priority because it is an investment in the future. I believe that every Missouri student should have an opportunity to pursue a higher education. The work we have completed over the past four years will help make that possible for more students in our area and throughout the state.

Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau represents the 27th District in the Missouri Senate.

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