Gov. Nixon Must Release Financial Aid Funds

Will Megl (right) is SGA President at Westminster College and President of the Keep Me In College Coalition. He is pictured with Senator Mike Kehoe (left). The following op-ed piece from Megl has been distributed to several Missouri newspapers. 

Gov. Jay Nixon continues to withhold millions of dollars from Access Missouri, the cornerstone of our state’s commitment to helping financially deserving students of working families earn a college degree and compete for jobs in high-tech, high-growth industries.

Failure to release the $12 million in need-based financial aid has resulted in students at 4-year colleges receiving a maximum award of $1,500, or $750 per semester. This is well below the statutory maximum award of $2,800. The maximum award for students at 2-year colleges is $660, or $330 per semester. Again, well below the statutory maximum of $1,300.

After lawmakers sustained many of the governor’s vetoes of special interest breaks, he released $143 million for education and then traveled Sept. 17 to Truman State University to declare quality and affordability of higher education a top priority of his administration.

The Keep Me In College Coalition believes it’s time for the governor to back up that claim with action. Our Coalition – a statewide grassroots organization of students, parents and educational leaders working to protect Missouri financial aid for Missouri students – is calling on the Nixon Administration to restore the buying power that Access Missouri was designed to provide to the state’s neediest students.

Award amounts have significantly eroded over the years as the state appropriation for this important financial aid program dropped from $93 million in fiscal year 2009 to $67 million in fiscal year 2013. Our Coalition succeeded in convincing the General Assembly to approve a $15 million increase for Access Missouri in the recent session.

The approximately 60,000 needy and highly deserving students who receive Access Missouri grants can all attest to the essential role that these funds play in their ability to pursue the dream of a college education. As the son of a home health care nurse from Troy, I wouldn’t be able to afford to attend Westminster College without the assistance of Access Missouri, the Federal Pell Grant, as well as institutional scholarships and grants. I will earn my Bachelor of Arts in Mathematical Sciences and Economics this spring. In addition to serving as President of Keep Me In College, I am Student Government Association President and Chief Executive Officer of the Blue Blazers Investment Committee at Westminster College.

I am but one example of the difference that Access Missouri funding is making in the ability of working families to help their children achieve the dream of a college education. Only 35 percent of Missourians currently have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree compared to the national average of 38 percent, according to Lumina Foundation. This should concern all of us because Missouri set a goal of 60 percent college degree attainment by 2025. The only way to ensure that Missouri is able to achieve this goal and compete for 21st century jobs is to protect funding for our state’s only need-based financial aid program.

Access Missouri is fulfilling the objectives it was designed to attain. It’s also an effective tool in limiting the growth of student debt.

Gov. Nixon should join us in supporting Access Missouri as an investment in the future of our state and its long-term economic success. As college graduates, students will give back to communities all across the state of Missouri – and we should all agree that is a wise investment.

Op-ed by Will Megl, President of Keep Me In College Coalition.

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