Jefferson City — The Missouri Department of Higher Education is accepting applications for grants to fund projects that encourage low income students to attend college. A letter of intent to apply for the grant is due by Jan. 15, 2009.

The College Access Challenge Grant Program was passed by Congress in 2007 as part of the omnibus College Cost Reduction and Access Act. The act awards grants to states based on the number of residents living below the poverty line. Missouri will distribute about $900,000 per year for two years. Maximum grant amounts will be $100,000.

Not-for-profit, philanthropic organizations or consortia may apply for the grants, which must be matched with nonfederal funds (one dollar of matching funds for every two dollars of grant funds.) The grants are intended to pay for projects that provide information and outreach to students who may be at risk of not enrolling in or completing college.

Leroy Wade, assistant commissioner of higher education and program director, said about 130,000 students in Missouri meet the requirements for need-based financial aid. Yet only around 80,000 students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the April 1 deadline necessary to qualify for state funds.

"Early awareness programs are effective," Wade says. "The mechanics of applying are important, but a lot of discussion and decision-making must precede that. Families need to have conversations early on about the benefits of attending college."

More information and application forms may be obtained on the Missouri Department of Higher Education Website at