Jefferson City — The Missouri Department of Higher Education today awarded $731,018 to nine groups for programs that help low-income students attend college.

More than130,000 students in Missouri meet the requirements for need-based financial aid, but only about 80,000 students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the April 1 deadline needed to qualify for funds.

College Access Challenge Grants were created by Congress in 2007 to help low-income students take advantage of opportunities for a college education.

Missouri received about $900,000 to distribute this year, based on the number of residents living below the poverty line. Close to $300,000 remains to be distributed; another request for proposals will be issued later this month. The maximum grant award is $100,000.

A St. Louis-based program called College Bound received the maximum grant amount. Since its creation in 2006, College Bound has helped 80 students attend college. Founder Lisa Orden Zarin says the students "are nothing short of heroic" for rising above the obstacles posed by a life of poverty to prepare for, apply to and attend college.

"Students from low income, first generation families have all the capacities to succeed in college but they need three times the support to get there. Imagine trying to focus your energy on the future when you're hungry or worrying about being evicted," Zarin says. "College Bound's role is to meet our students where they are and be there for them, whether that means filling out applications, providing a meal, or driving them to visit a college. All students can develop the resolve to move mountains, they just need the resources."

Other recipients and their awards include:

  • The Missouri Association of Student Financial Aid Personnel -- $2,000 to organize and perform college financial aid outreach and training to students, families and high school counselors in the state of Missouri.

  • College Summit -- $80,000 to work with high schools to build their college-going culture and capabilities.

  • Southeast Missouri State University -- $100,000 to develop sustainable, targeted college planning and financial literacy training for K-12 students and families in the Cape Girardeau Public School District.

  • St. Louis Internship Program -- $51,845 to provide internship opportunities for St. Louis Public High School students that are in financial need.

  • The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis -- $98,000 to help low-income students with college planning, individual advising, FAFSA completion, debt management and financial literacy.

  • Poplar Bluff Technical Career Center -- $100,000 to provide career awareness to middle school students, financial literacy counseling, financial aid assistance and mentors to low-income students and their families.

  • Missouri State University West Plains -- $99,173 to encourage academic preparation for middle school students, and provide campus visits, financial aid and mentors to low income students from area schools.

  • University of Missouri -- $100,000 to support, sustain and expand the activities of its existing Missouri College Advising Corps.