The University of Missouri beginning next year will guarantee payment of all tuition and fees for every Missouri student who qualifies for a federal Pell Grant, MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright announced Thursday afternoon.
“Today we are reaffirming our pledge to provide access to higher education with the belief that an educated citizenry is the key to advancing the state of Missouri, our nation and world,” said Cartwright, who began his role as chancellor earlier this month. “Today is an investment in Missouri.”
MU is the only public college or university in the state making this level of financial aid commitment to its undergraduate students, according to state education officials.
The offer is for in-state students, including transfer students. Other schools in the University of Missouri System are not included.
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Most Pell Grants are awarded to students whose families make less than $30,000 a year. Under certain circumstances though, some Pell Grants are awarded to students whose families make more than that. The maximum Pell Grant award this year was $5,815.
For Missouri students who meet the Pell Grant-eligible requirements and also are in the MU Honors College, Cartwright said the university will not only pay all remaining tuition and fees after Pell Grant dollars are applied, but will also pay for the student’s housing, food and books.
Essentially any Missouri student who qualifies could get a free or significantly subsidized education at the University of Missouri.
For state residents, tuition at MU is $11,008 a year assuming a student is enrolled in 14 credit hours per semester. Housing and dining cost about $10,808. Students typically pay about $6,148 a year for books, transportation and personal expenses.
To be eligible for the honors college, incoming freshmen need an ACT score of 31 or higher, must be in the top 15 percent of their class, or have a core grade point average of 3.58. Students with an ACT score of at least 29 need to be in the top 5 percent of their class or have a core grade point average of 3.91.
“This will help eliminate the financial barrier for many students in Missouri,” said Christian Basi, spokesman for MU and the University of Missouri four-campus system.
“Based on Pell eligibility from previous years, we expect that more than 3,500 MU students from Missouri will qualify,” the university said in a news release that included details about the new program, called the Missouri Land Grant Compact.
Lucy Shanker, a junior studying journalism and Middle Eastern studies, is Pell eligible and will benefit from the program.
“This program is truly incredible,” said Shanker, who is from Kansas City. “It is not only an honor, but it means a huge weight will be lifted off of the shoulders of my mother.”
Shanker said her mom is a teaching assistant and a single parent who raised Shanker and her sister, a college graduate.
Having her tuition paid “also means that during the school year, I will be able to focus on my studies without the constant worrying of how my family and I will pay for things,” Shanker said.
This new MU program is similar to financial aid initiatives offered at some elite private four-year schools such as Harvard, which promises a free education for admitted students from households earning less than $65,000.
The Missouri compact “is MU’s pledge to fulfill its land-grant mission by offering more competitive, affordable education to Missouri residents,” Cartwright said.
He said the free tuition offer solidifies MU as the go-to university for Missouri residents.
“This is something that has been in the works for a significantly long time,” Basi said. “It is not in response to any recent news. We are thrilled about this announcement.”
He said the compact will be funded through a combination of federal, state and university resources. It’s expected to cost about $5 million a year — $3.5 million for the Missouri Land Grants and $1.5 million for the Honors grants.
University officials were not more specific about where the dollars will come from. Earlier this year, University of Missouri System President Mun Choi ordered every campus in the four-campus system to streamline operations while identifying key areas of investment.
Shrinking state funding and enrollment declines caused the system to cut more than $101 million from the budgets of its four campuses, resulting in the loss of 474 jobs. MU saw roughly $60 million in cuts.
The new MU program kicks off in the fall of 2018.
That means an eligible student already enrolled at MU — a junior in 2017, for example — could get tuition and fees paid through the compact in his senior year.
Cartwight and Pelema Morrice, MU’s vice provost of enrollment and management, addressed a packed conference room in Jesse Hall where the announcement was made.
Both said that financial aid had made a higher education attainable for them. They said that while Thursday’s announcement struck a personal cord for them, it is MU’s land grant mission and the advance of Missouri that’s behind the compact.
“Our message here is very clear,” Morrice said. “We care about Missouri and we care about affordability. We want to advance education opportunities for all Missourians.”