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Opinion: Creating a better Missouri through scholarships

Saturday, March 5, 2005

As president of the University of Missouri, I am committed to keeping higher education affordable. That is why last summer I challenged our four campuses to establish 266 new scholarships for our neediest students. Today that challenge has been met. Thanks to a public-private partnership, we are creating $8 million in new endowments to support the program.

As most citizens realize, Missouri's public colleges and universities are under tremendous pressure and are faced with growing enrollments, rising costs and flat or declining state support. This situation makes such public-private initiatives more important than ever if the university is to successfully maintain not only its affordability and accessibility, but its quality.

Now let me tell you how the new scholarship program came to be.

Last year the University of Missouri was fortunate to receive a last-minute addition of roughly $12 million to its state appropriation. At the time, I set aside $4 million for the scholarships with the provision that the money be matched with an equal amount from private sources.

I knew there would be a great deal of student demand for such scholarships -- three out of four UM students receive some form of financial aid -- but I was unprepared for the tremendous outpouring of generosity. Individuals and couples, many of relatively modest means, rallied to fund the scholarships, as did corporate donors.

We are grateful for their help, and I am sure the scholarship recipients will be too.

As a result of this partnership, we are matching $4 million from the state with $4 million from the private sector to create $8 million in permanent endowments for the new scholarships. Significant income from the endowment should begin flowing soon, benefiting needy University of Missouri students for years, even generations, to come.

We would like to establish 667 more such scholarships, so we have requested $10 million in state funds, again to be matched with private dollars. To those who might question such a use of state resources in these times I would say: How else can you double the value of state appropriations in a matter of months and generate dividends for decades to come?

The financial virtues of such an approach are clear, but there are other benefits. Providing scholarships for the neediest students allows them to realize their full potential. Not only is that in keeping with the American dream, it helps Missouri create the educated work force it needs to remain competitive. Strengthening the economy in turn helps our cities, helps our counties and helps our state, ultimately benefiting every citizen.

Likewise, I believe that our entire state benefits when its public and private sectors partner and collaborate. That is why since becoming university president I have worked to strengthen existing partnerships and build new ones, including with other educational entities. After all, while the specifics may differ, we are all working toward the same goal: creating a better Missouri.

Dr. Elson S. Floyd is the president of the University of Missouri.


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