Change to Statute Would Help Vets Pay for College
JEFFERSON City, MO -- Steve Acton took the American College Testing Program exam, commonly called the ACT, on his 18th birthday in 2004. When he learned three months later that his ACT score qualified him for a Bright Flight scholarship, he had a dilemma.
"I weighed whether to go into serious debt to attend college or to go into the Army and use the GI bill to pay my tuition," Acton recalls. He chose the latter, intending to pick up his Bright Flight scholarship when he got out of the military.
Missouri University of Science and Technology student Steve Acton was the "go-to" guy to fix computers during his military service in Iraq. Acton qualified for a Bright Flight scholarship as a Hillsboro, Mo., high school senior, but it expired after 27 months of military service. A proposed change to legislation would restore Bright Flight scholarships to military personnel if they enroll full-time within six months of the end of their service.
When his deployment - including time in Iraq - ended in 2008, he looked forward to enrolling at Missouri University of Science and Technology (MS&T) in Rolla to study electrical engineering. The GI Bill paid for much of his expenses, but not all. When he inquired about using the Bright Flight scholarship, he was told it had expired.
Existing state law forbids providing Bright Flight awards to students more than 27 months after high school graduation.
To address the plight of service men and women like Acton, the Missouri Department of Higher Education (MDHE) will ask the legislature to approve a change to the Bright Flight statute that will allow active duty service personnel to extend their scholarship eligibility if they enroll fulltime in a college or university within six months of the end of their service period.
The Bright Flight scholarship was created in 1986 to motivate high-achieving students in Missouri to attend college full-time in their home state. Since 1991, its first full year of operation, it has provided more than $250 million to nearly 40,000 students.
The initial scholarship is awarded to Missouri high school seniors who score in the top three percent on the ACT or SAT. Currently, students must score 31 or above on the ACT to be eligible for Bright Flight. Students may renew their scholarship if they maintain their eligibility.
MDHE Assistant Commissioner Leroy Wade said the proposed statute change will address the growing length of deployment among military service men and women.
"When the legislation was first approved, most military obligations ended after 24 months," Wade says. "We recently began to hear from people leaving the service after three or four years who wanted their Bright Flight scholarships extended. This proposed change fulfills the intent of the original law without penalizing our service personnel who have served lengthy deployments."
The Bright Flight scholarship would have provided Acton with $1,000 per semester for up to five years to apply to college expenses in Missouri, including tuition, which rose more than 15 percent during the time of his deployment.
Acton says he is hopeful the legislation will pass so it will benefit other returning military personnel. "I was the go-to guy for just about everything computer-related that needed to be fixed," he says of his time in Iraq. "Now here I am, pursuing an electrical engineering degree that I hope will lead to a career designing the equipment that I once fixed."