Missouri Promise could make college more affordable

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ROLLA - Higher education officials have endorsed a new plan Friday that would make college more affordable for graduates of Missouri high schools.

UM President Tim Wolfe showed his support for "Missouri Promise," the creation of Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel. Wolfe explained to attendants at the UM Curators meeting that Missouri high school students with a 3.0 GPA or higher could see the cost to attend a college in Missouri greatly reduced.

Hickman High School Senior Mikayla Logan said this is exactly what Missouri needs.

"There are a lot of good schools that are only a few hours away, or I could stay home and be able to save a lot of money," she said. "That would be great, it's an incentive to go to college."

Logan will run track for Southeast Missouri State in the fall as a construction management major.

According to Chief Communications Officer for the University of Missouri System John Fougere, 28,000 Missouri high school students graduated with a 3.0 GPA or higher last year. 40 percent went out of state or did not go to college.

Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals Executive Director Phil Lewis fully supports the program.

"I think it might be the best thing that's ever happened to our Missouri colleges," Lewis said. "As principals and educators in Missouri we think that it is really important to keep our best and brightest students here in Missouri."

Fougere said Missouri Promise will be modeled after a similar program in the state of Georgia called Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally.

A tweet from the official UM Board of Curators account explained how it works in Georgia. Students with a 3.0-3.6 GPA earn a 75 percent discount. Those in the 3.7-4.0 range do not have to pay for tuition.

Fougere said the increase of the quality of students attending colleges in Georgia is a major contributor to why they were accepted into the Association of American Universities, an elite circle of higher education in which only 62 universities have received invitations. The University of Missouri is the state's only member.

Lewis said the exodus of Missouri's talent has been happening for years, and keeping Missourians in the state would also boost business.

"If our students are here in Missouri, educated in Missouri, then I think their network grows from Missouri out," Lewis said. "When that happens we have the opportunity to improve our business climate and help our businesses and industries here in Missouri."

The issue is how to pay for it.

"Trying to find money to keep students in Missouri is sometimes a difficult chore," Lewis said.

Fougere said the strategy is to get a ballot measure in 2016 to raise the tobacco tax and other taxes.

Another idea is to fund the plan through legislation in the Missouri state government next session.