Wildwood, MO — College and university presidents from around the state weighed in on state financial aid policy today at the meeting of the Coordinating Board for Higher Education (CBHE).

The state currently has four major scholarship programs — Bright Flight, provided to high achieving students if they attend college in Missouri; A+, which allows students from certain schools to attend community colleges at no cost if they maintain a 2.5 GPA and do community service; Marguerite Ross Barnett, for part-time students; and Access Missouri, created by statute in 2007 to provide aid to low and middle income students.

In addition, the Missouri Department of Higher Education administers four narrow-purpose aid programs, such as the Vietnam Veteran's Survivors Grant, and four programs enacted by statute but never funded.

Most of today's discussion centered on Access Missouri, which is expected this year to distribute more than $95 million to at least 42,000 students. Gov. Jay Nixon, in his State of the State address, said he wanted to equalize amounts going to four-year public and private institutions from the Access Missouri scholarship program.

Currently, once students qualify for Access Missouri scholarships, they receive varying amounts depending on the type of institution they attend. Students who enroll in community colleges can receive up to $1,000; those headed to a public four-year institution can receive up to $2,150; and students attending a private four-year college or university can receive up to $4,600.

The staggered amounts are roughly proportionate to each sector's average tuition costs. Public institutions point out that almost half the total amount of Access Missouri aid goes to independent schools, while the national average for such scholarships is one-third. Private institutions maintain that Access Missouri assists them to educate proportionately more minority, needy and first generation students than public institutions without direct financial support from the state.

In January, Commissioner of Higher Education Robert B. Stein invited interested parties to submit position papers about state student aid policy.

The CBHE briefly recessed their regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday and invited all presidents and chancellors present to take a seat at the table before resuming the meeting to discuss Access Missouri and others issues surrounding student financial aid.

Commissioner of Higher Education Robert B. Stein concluded the exchange by saying that making college affordable is one of the most important issues facing Missouri today. "The challenges are serious but surmountable," Stein said. "Discussions like these allow us to find commonalities and come to a fuller understanding of different perspectives. Today I heard various viewpoints, but I did not hear one voice arguing against the need to open college doors to more students."

While no legislation has yet been introduced to change how Access Missouri funds are allocated, CBHE member Greg Upchurch says the process of engagement should continue. "We shouldn't lose sight of the bigger picture," Upchurch said. "We need more support for higher education and the only way to accomplish that is to hang together."