Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s refusal to release $12 million in need-based financial aid has further hurt students of military and working families who already were struggling to achieve a college degree.
Nixon has continued to withhold funds from Access Missouri, even though lawmakers sustained many of the governor’s vetoes of special-interest tax breaks in the recent legislative veto session. As a result, students at four-year colleges received a maximum award of $1,500, or $750 per semester. This is well below the statutory maximum award of $2,800. The maximum award for students at two-year colleges is $660, or $330 per semester. Again, well below the statutory maximum of $1,300.
Access Missouri is our state’s only need-based financial aid program. It enables tens of thousands of Missourians to earn a college degree in our state. Access Missouri scholarships are awarded to students with significant financial challenges, enabling them to choose the in-state college or university that best meets their needs. Some 5,100 students attend higher education institutions in the Greater Kansas City area with Access Missouri tuition support, according to the Missouri Department of Higher Education.
I am among those who can attest to the essential role that these funds play in the ability of students to pursue the dream of a college education. I graduated in 2008 from Northeast High School in Kansas City with the goal of becoming the first in my immediate family to attend college. To help pay for my education, I joined the Navy Reserve, achieving the rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class. I will graduate this December with a degree in economics from Park University and will begin working full time at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
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I am but one example of why Access Missouri is a wise investment in Missouri’s long-term economic development goals. It keeps our in-state talent here in Missouri. It ensures that our state will be able to provide the educated workforce that businesses need and expect. As college graduates, these students will give back to communities all across the state and become contributors to our state’s tax base.
The necessity of the program is evidenced by the fact that the number of Access Missouri recipients has increased 47 percent since fiscal year 2008, when the program was first created. At the same time, funding decreased from a high of $92.6 million in fiscal 2009 to $63 million in fiscal 2013. Lawmakers wisely listened to the pleas of a coalition of students, educators and citizens from across the state and increased funding by $15 million this year. The governor withheld $12 million of those funds.
Nixon should release those dollars and join military and working families in supporting Access Missouri as an investment in the future of our state and its long-term economic success. As college graduates, students will give back to communities all across the state of Missouri – and we should all agree that is a wise investment.
Jared Weese is a senior at Park University, majoring in economics. He lives in Sugar Creek, Mo.