By Barbara Shoun
JEFFERSON CITY – Southwest Baptist University (SBU) of Bolivar was one of 10 private colleges and universities represented at the State Capitol March 2 when lawmakers heard testimony for and against a bill that would increase scholarship funding to students of public schools and decrease funding for those in private schools.
Students and administration of SBU presented testimony against the bill as did representatives of Central Methodist University, College of the Ozarks, Columbia College, Webster University, Missouri Valley College, Lindenwood University, William Woods University, Westminster College, and Drury University.
House Bill 1812 (HB 1812) relates to the Access Missouri Financial Assistance Program which offers scholarships to students attending both public institutions, whose tuition is subsidized by taxpayers, and private institutions, whose tuition is generally higher.
Currently, Access Missouri offers between $200 and $1,000 to students of public two-year schools and between $300 and $1,250 to those attending private two-year schools. HB 1812 would set the scholarships for all schools at $300 to $1,250.
Students attending public institutions or Linn State Technical College currently can receive between $1,000 and $2,150 while private students can obtain between $2,000 and $4,600. The bill would standardize payments of between $1,500 and $2,850 for all students.
Testimony in favor of the bill was offered by representatives of the University of Missouri at Columbia, Rolla, and St. Louis as well as Lincoln University.
In his introduction of HB 1812 before the House Higher Education Committee, its sponsor, Rep. Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff, explained that the changes would make funds equally available to both.
“We do not begrudge private students any of this money,” Kingery told the standing-room-only crowd. “In the economy today, we would like to equalize so that everyone is on the same playing field.”
He pointed out that the bill would not impact the education of current students since it would not go into effect until 2015-2016.
First to testify in favor of the bill was University of Missouri – Columbia (UMC) Chancellor Brady Deaton, who made the point that public institutions have caps on their tuition while private schools are free to increase their rates.
Nine other people, representing individual students, student groups, parents, alumni and the Flagship scholarship organization at UMC, urged the committee to recommend passage of the bill.
Marianne Inman, president of Central Methodist University, was the first to speak against the bill. She countered the tuition-rate statement with information that the Access Missouri program supports “needy students and not institutions.”
She indicated that private institutions tend to have more ethnic and special needs students who receive enormous benefit at very little cost.
Minda Cox, a student at SBU, was the first of three to speak for her university, saying that no other school in the state or country can prepare her for her planned work with disabled women and girls in foreign countries. She spoke of faculty and student willingness to accommodate her own physical disabilities, saying, “Faith-based institutions make a big difference to students who are disabled.”
Fifteen others testified against the proposed legislation.
Robert Stein, commissioner for the Missouri Department of Higher Education, reported to the House committee that the Higher Education Board of Directors is split on the subject. They would like to see more study and discussion before they make a recommendation.
He said the board will be having closed meetings with representatives from all sectors and plans to start from scratch to see what it wants to accomplish and model and how to judge success.
Following all the testimony, the board adjourned. It is expected to make its recommendation for or against passage to the full House of Representatives within the next few weeks.
Brad Gamble, director of financial aid at SBU, served on the committee that helped to form the Access Missouri program. While he did not testify at the hearing, he stated that the original intent of the program was to give students equal access to the university of their choice.
“We tried to give an amount that was proportional,” he said.