Most area students are passing up tuition-free scholarships to community colleges, administrators say. In May less than 3 percent of Central High School students graduated with an A-Plus Scholarship.
The scholarship covers tuition at public community colleges if students meet certain GPA and good citizenship requirements.
Next year, Jackson High School students will be eligible for the state-funded scholarship. The designation as an A-Plus school was no easy task for the district, requiring an examination of curriculum, paperwork and the hiring of a part-time coordinator.
The number of students who will actually take advantage of the program is uncertain. While the scholarship exists, there is no eligible institution within a 30-mile radius of Cape Girardeau.
"We'll be interested to see how many students sign up," assistant superintendent Dr. Rita Fisher said.
This past year, eight out of 289 graduates at Central High School participated. The school became designated as A-Plus in the 1990s, principal Dr. Mike Cowan said.
"We have not had as many kids take advantage as we would have liked. I think it is because there are limited options to which you can use the A-Plus benefits," Cowan said.
The award cannot be used at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center, something that has incensed parents, according to center director Rich Payne. Students can earn an associate's degree through the center, but the scholarship does not apply because the classes are taught by both Mineral Area College professors and Southeast Missouri State University professors, Payne said. Four-year institutions, such as Southeast, are not eligible.
However, Southeast's regional campuses in Sikeston, Perryville, Malden and Kennett are. Distances from Cape Girardeau to the campuses are 33, 37, 75 and 97 miles, respectively. Other eligible regional colleges are Three Rivers Community College, 80 miles away in Poplar Bluff, Mo., and Mineral Area College, 86 miles away in Park Hills, Mo.
A needs analysis is being planned to determine the higher-education needs of the area and the most appropriate model for meeting the needs. College presidents, business leaders and prominent community members are funding the analysis.
Part of the advantage of a community college is that students can live at home and save money, student Amber Pennington said. Pennington is a 2008 Central graduate and A-Plus scholarship recipient.
"But I have to drive to Sikeston just to use it. The tuition is free, but when you add the other payments, like gas, that money can add up," she said.
The A-Plus program is administered by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state appropriated $25 million for the program next school year. To receive the scholarship, students must keep a GPA of 2.5 or higher, have good attendance and citizenship, and mentor for 50 hours.
Fisher and Cowan both expressed hope the program will encourage more students to attend a post-secondary institution next year.
"It's all about accessibility because A-Plus takes affordability out of the equation," Payne said.
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