News & Features

Bills Threaten Assistance for Students Attending Independent Schools

Saint Louis, Mo. - Funding for a program designed to help thousands of students attend the Missouri college of their choice is in jeopardy of being slashed.

Bills introduced recently in the Missouri legislature seek to set the maximum Access Missouri award amount at $2,850 for all students attending a four-year college or university. Currently, four-year independent college students are eligible for grants up to $4,600 each, while their counterparts at public colleges are eligible for a maximum of $2,150 each. The proposal represents a 38 percent cut in aid to students attending private schools.

The average award, as the program was originally established, was set to cover 22 percent of the average tuition and fees at four-year independent institutions, while covering 25 percent at four-year public institutions. At Fontbonne University in St. Louis, the program assists 507 students with demonstrated financial need - out of a student body of around 3,000. Some 15,000 students at independent institutions state-wide who receive Access Missouri assistance would be affected.

"We are very concerned about the impact this change, if implemented, would have on the deserving students who attend our university," said Dennis Golden, Fontbonne president. "As a private institution sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Fontbonne doesn't receive any state subsidies, but we allocate $6 million a year in need-based grants and scholarships, and that's above and beyond the Access Missouri grants that students receive. The full grant, as it was designed, is critical to the financial aid package our neediest students receive."

Access Missouri was developed two years ago by a committee of financial aid professionals from public and independent colleges to ensure Missouri students with demonstrated financial need could achieve their dream of a college education through any accredited college or university in the state. Just last year, Missouri's Coordinating Board for Higher Education noted that "the positive impact in terms of the number and financial need of students served has been overwhelming."

Students are beginning to speak out about the proposed cuts.

"Access Missouri funding needs to continue to help students with their schooling and to help all of us work toward better futures," said Andrea Bailey, a sophomore at Fontbonne University who was inspired to pursue speech-language pathology after her sister received extensive therapy following a serious car accident involving a drunk driver. Fontbonne is one of the few schools in the state to offer this program. "This funding has been really helpful for people who are in bad situations, but who are trying to change their lives and be more productive citizens." Bailey is one of three children in a single-parent household and says she would be unable to attend Fontbonne without Access Missouri funding.

David Dickerson a Fontbonne senior, said that Access Missouri gives him a "chance to better myself and my family" at a school of his choice.

"If I did not have this assistance, I would have to get additional loans or select another institution to attend, which I don't think is fair," he said. If successful, Dickerson will be the first person in his immediate family to graduate from college, and he hopes to one day become a school administrator and impact the lives of children.

"More than 85 percent of our graduates end up either working or living in the St. Louis area," Golden said. "This is a good investment by the state to continue assisting students at Fontbonne and other independent universities, and it is just what the Access Missouri program was designed to do."

A coalition of more than 4,000 students, parents and educational leaders from across the state has come together to protect the current funding levels of the Access Missouri program. More information about the coalition and the threat to Access Missouri can be found at www.KeepMeInCollege.org or www.fontbonne.edu/accessmo.

Take Action: Protect Access Missouri Funding