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Joint Committee on Education meets to discuss postsecondary programs

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Members of the House of Representatives and Senate met Tuesday afternoon in the Capitol to listen to a presentation on three of Missouri’s most popular state-funded scholarship programs.

Kevin Gwaltney, executive director of the Joint Committee on Education, presented his findings on Access Missouri, the A+ program and Bright Flight to the legislators to discuss their fiscal feasibility matched their ability to fulfill their purposes.

Rep. David Wood, chair of the committee, said the meeting was held to ensure the state was making the “best return on investment for these scholarship programs.”

The three programs fill different needs and serve largely different students. While Bright Flight exists to give gifted and high performing students and incentive to stay within the state, Access Missouri actively works to increase postsecondary participation for lower income students.

Gwaltney and his team’s research found that those two programs had largely fulfilled their purposes while remaining financially sound, but the longest discussion of the meeting revolved around the A+ program.

The A+ program works differently from Bright Flight and Access in that its main purpose is not necessarily to get students into college, but instead to improve the quality of Missouri’s public schools by offering scholarships to students who tutor at an accredited school. Ninety percent of A+ participants use their scholarships to attend community colleges where they will not receive four-year degrees, instead using the credit accumulated to later transfer to a four-year university.

Gwaltney said had a side effect of incentivizing some students to attend two-year universities instead of four-year options.

“A+ creates possibly a diversionary effect,” he said. “The award is rich enough that some students who would have been predisposed to attend a four-year institution may choose to go to a two year institution instead.”

However, Gwaltney also noted the program still had a net benefit by increasing overall college going rates by 1.5 percent, and it increased the persistence rate for students of all backgrounds.

The current financial status of the A+ program is danger. Gwaltney said it was still too early to determine if the program could be fully funded in the coming fiscal year, a fact which could have repercussions for the more than 13,000 students that benefit from the A+ program.

“When students begin to believe they are not going to receive their reward, the power of the program may be reduced,” Gwaltney said.

The committee will meet again in August to finalize actions based on Gwaltney’s findings.