By Brian Koonce
HANNIBAL – A cost-cutting measure proposed by Gov. Jay Nixon would have “disastrous consequences” for Hannibal-LaGrange College (HLG), according to HLG President Woody Burt.
House Bill 1812 (HB 1812) would modify the Access Missouri Financial Assistance Program which offers financial aid to students attending both public institutions and private institutions, whose tuition is generally higher. Access Missouri currently offers between $1,000 and $2,150 to students of public colleges and between $2,000 and $4,600 to those attending private colleges. HB 1812 would set the scholarships for all schools at $1,500-$2,850. Senate Bill 784 (SB 784) would have a similar effect. Neither would go into effect until 2014.
After some pushback from Missouri’s private academic community, including Burt, officials from Southwest Baptist University and Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) President Bruce McCoy, Nixon rethought the cuts and is now pushing “equalization,” according to a statement released March 30.
In a memo to HLG personnel, trustees and alumni, Burt said the governor is trying to balance the state budget at the expense of private colleges in the state. He said HLG students as a whole receive roughly $1 million from these funds.
“The loss of these funds would create a significant financial hardship for our students and for HLG. [Nixon’s] proposal would [have made] Missouri the only state in the country that does not provide financial aid to students attending independent colleges and universities.”
Burt argued the changes are not an equalization, because public institutions are already subsidized by the state, at roughly $7,000 per student each year. He suggested that the move would drive students to colleges out of state that could offer better financial aid packages to Missouri students.
Burt is not the only high-profile Missouri Baptist who voiced opposition to the changes. In mid-March, Southwest Baptist University President C. Pat Taylor along with other SBU officials and students lobbied at the State Capitol to preserve Access Missouri. A week later, McCoy, pastor, Canaan Baptist Church, St. Louis, sent a letter to the governor echoing Burt’s concerns.
“Such a move penalizes some of our most motivated and soon-to-become most productive of citizens” McCoy wrote. “Please reconsider your plan to eliminate state-funded financial aid to these wholesome students who attend independent colleges and universities in Missouri.”
Burt asked that those opposed to the proposed changes call Nixon’s office and the offices of state legislators to lobby against them.
“If we fail to act, this decision could do great harm to HLG and to higher education in Missouri,” Burt said. “Please act now!”