Independent sector participates in MDHE work group on Access Missouri
Three independent sector representatives participated in a March 19 work group meeting to discuss need-based financial aid in Missouri in light of recent legislative attempts to signficantly alter the Access Missouri program. President Barney Forsythe of Westminster College, President Marianne Inman of Central Methodist University and Rose Windmiller of Washington University joined counterparts from two- and four-year public institutions in a discussion facilitated by Commissioner of Higher Education Robert Stein.
Stein released two statements on behalf of the work group, with the second summarizing key principles to which the sectors have agreed, following conversation with fellow institutions. While it is not possible to say that higher education is unanimous in its view of how state scholarship funding should be dispersed in the future, the principles indicate common support for continuing to emphaize need-based aid that is portable and easy to understand and that awards allow students to predict what aid will be available to them in their undergraduate careers. The work group also agreed to establishing an award amount for need-based aid that is the same for students attending four-year institutions whether public or independent.
The independent sector will continue to participate in these discussions to ensure Missouri college students have reliable need-based aid going forward.
In addition, independent institutions oppose the proposal by Gov. Jay Nixon to prohibit all state financial aid to students attending Missouri's independent colleges. This would make Missouri the only state in the country that does not provide financial aid to students attending private institutions, essentially eliminating the opportunity of a college education for tens of thousands of students in our state.
ICUM presidents join Keep Me In College Coalition students to testify against changes to need-based scholarships
Westminster College President George Forsythe and Lindenwood University President Jim Evans testified before the Senate Education Committee on February 17 to oppose proposed changes to the Access Missouri need-based scholarship program. Senate Bill 784 would slash maximum financial awards by $1,750 for students attending independent colleges while providing a $700 increase to students attending public institutions.
Robert Stein, Higher Education Comissioner, testified on behalf of the Coordinating Board for Higher Education which also opposes the bill. The members of CBHE voted at their meeting on February 11 to oppose SB 784 in part because it recommends changes developed without the full participation of all sectors. Access Missouri, created three years ago to address needs of low-income college students in the state, was developed by financial aid professionals from all sectors along with CBHE.
In his testimony, President Forsythe pointed out that it is an artificial debate to pit private colleges against public ones and urged the Coordinating Board for Higher Education to convene a meeting of higher education officials from all sectors to consider any possible changes to need-based financial aid in the state.
President Evans noted that Access Missouri was designed to provide financial awards to students, not institutions. "Our students are taxpayers, too," he said.
The Senate Education Committee has not yet voted on SB 784. A companion bill, House Bill 1812, was recently assigned to the House Higher Education Committee.
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