Missouri’s college scholarship program that is designed to keep the best and brightest in the Show Me State has a maximum award amount of $3,000 annually per student. State Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development Deputy Commissioner Leroy Wade told a panel of lawmakers Tuesday that the individual Bright Flight scholarship program amount has not changed in about a decade.

Rep. Ed Lewis, who chairs the Missouri House Subcommittee on Appropriations – Education, questioned whether the amount is enough.

“We’re giving them a $3,000 piece of change,” said Lewis, R-Moberly. “And yet Illinois wants to give them $10,000, or Kansas wants to give them $6,000, or something for the same thing. We’re not helping ourself. The brain drain is not necessarily to our advantage. If you want to keep your best and brightest, you might want to incentivize it.”

The scholarship award is up to $3,000 annually for those in the top 3% and up to $1,000 for those in the top fourth and fifth percentiles.

The department is requesting $29 million in the next state budget to fund the Bright Flight scholarship program.

Missouri’s need-based college scholarship program is losing interest. The maximum awards granted annually through the Access Missouri scholarship program are $1,300 to community college students and about $2,800 to four-year college students.

“A number of college presidents that are expressing concern about their ability to basically compete for some of these students at other states were providing more lucrative, if you will, student financial aid or were waiving out-of-state tuition, those kinds of things, and it was putting them at a competitive disadvantage,” Wade said.

According to Wade, changing the scholarship award amount would require the Missouri Legislature to change law.

“I frankly would welcome an increase in award amounts,” he said. “I think that’s always good. These award amounts were set back in 2012 or 2013 and we know what’s happened to tuition and other costs for higher education in that time.”

Wade said interest in the program peaked around 2015, when about 50,000 students received a scholarship. Last year, the state awarded nearly 36,000 Access Missouri scholarships.

The department is requesting $84 million in the next state budget to fund the program.

Wade told the subcommittee that Missouri’s A+ scholarship program exploded in popularity during the pandemic. The program provides college tuition and fee reimbursement to eligible high school graduates who attend a community college, vocational school or technical school. Wade said the average award in this program is just over $3,700.

“Coming out of the pandemic, it’s interesting to see kind of where this program is going to go,” said Wade. “We had a couple of years there where we thought we may have to come in for a supplemental in order to cover it. I don’t know whether we’ve reached a plateau here and we’re kind of at a steady state or whether we’re going to continue to see some growth in this program.”

Last year, the department awarded nearly 14,000 students an A+ scholarship.

Missouri’s Fast Track Workforce Incentive program covers tuition and fees for adults furthering their education to get a high-demand job. Fast Track is available to eligible Missourians 25 years or older seeking a certificate, degree, apprenticeship, or industry-recognized credential.

Wade said the average grant amount is about $3,700.

“I think this program is just kind of on the cusp of reaching its potential, said Wade. “We’ve seen quite a bit of growth. For example, right now we’ve already received more applications. We’ve got over 1,400 applications. That’s more applications than we received all last year. And so, I think the program is going to grow into itself.”

Ben Boggs, the commissioner of the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, told the subcommittee that expanding eligibility for the program could be helpful.

“It’s a very popular program,” he said. “It’s catching on. I think that there are also conversations of how could we have more Missourians take advantage of it.”

Missouri law requires the state’s public colleges and universities to limit the amount of tuition charged to combat veterans to $50 per credit hour. The Missouri Returning Heroes Education Act has helped about 500 veterans go back to school.

Wade said the program allows the schools to request reimbursement from the state for the amount of tuition waived during the previous year.

“It’s been consistently in the range of a million dollars each year for quite some time,” he said. “And so, the average amount that was waived is $2,116.”

Under the program, the tuition charged to combat veterans enrolled in graduate programs must be limited to no more than 30% of the cost of tuition and fees.

The veterans must achieve and maintain a grade point average of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale.

The Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development has a student portal to help determine what financial aid is available to individuals. Click here to view the portal.

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