WWU plans informational session on Access Missouri

Students at Missouri’s independent colleges and universities, like William Woods University, could potentially see a 38 percent decrease in their financial aid if proposed legislation to change the Access Missouri program passes.


To discuss the situation, WWU plans an informational meeting for students at noon Thursday (Feb. 26) in the Ivy Room, on the lower level of Tucker Dining Hall.


“We are working to ensure that students who may be affected by this legislation are well informed on the contents of HB 792 and SB 390 and how their financial award from Access Missouri may be affected,” Dr. Jahnae H. Barnett, WWU president, said. “We also want to help them understand the importance of fully participating in the legislative process.”


During the 2007-08 school year, 144 WWU students received grants from Access Missouri.


 “Access Missouri is important to all students because it allows them to match their educational opportunities to their learning style and career goals,” Deana Ready, director of student financial services at WWU, said. 


“Not all students can learn in large lecture classroom environments just as some students perform better in such environments.  By changing the Access Missouri program, the choices students can make will be limited.”


More than 4,000 students, parents, educational leaders and concerned citizens from across the state have come together to form the Keep Me In College Coalition to protect the highly successful need-based Access Missouri financial aid program against legislative efforts to cut funding for students attending Missouri’s independent colleges and universities. 


Caitlin Steiner is a WWU education major from the New Bloomfield area and a graduate of South Callaway High School.


“William Woods offered the ideal situation for me, small class sizes and personable staff members, plus it is not far from home,” she said. “Coming from a rural area makes receiving money from Access Missouri very important. My parents and I are not wealthy and we have tried our best to make sure I don’t have to take many student loans. Without the money from the Access Missouri grant, I would be more than $20,000 in debt right now! I would then have to face paying off that money on a teacher’s salary!”


Senators Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, have filed Senate Bill 390, which would set the maximum Access Missouri award amount at $2,850 for all students attending a four-year college or university in Missouri. This would cut awards to four-year independent colleges by $1,750 per student, or 38 percent, while increasing awards to four-year public institutions by $700 per student, or 25 percent. Rep. Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff filed companion House Bill 792.


“The purpose of Access Missouri is to provide Missouri students with financial need the opportunity to attend the college or university of their choosing, whether public or private, that best meets their needs,” Cale Fessler, chief financial officer at WWU, said.  “A reduction in Access Missouri awards for students choosing to attend private schools in the state will eliminate or significantly reduce the freedom of choice afforded to Missouri students.”


“Many students have specific needs that can be met only at some colleges and universities,” Dr. Sherry McCarthy, WWU vice president and dean of academic affairs, said. “William Woods, for example, makes available several unique baccalaureate programs. We are the only institution in Missouri that offers a four-year program for American Sign Language Interpreters. We are the only school to offer a degree in Juvenile Justice and one of the few to provide an Equestrian Science program.”        


Access Missouri grants are based solely on need. The program was established two years ago to improve access to a college education for the state students. At its inception, financial aid experts shaped the scholarships so eligible students could choose the best college or university fit for them. Award amounts were established to take into account the cost differences between public and independent Missouri institutions. 


Bradley Prasuhn is a WWU senior from Farmington Mo. A double major in sports management and business administration, he chose to attend William Woods “because of the small class sizes and the overall feeling of the university.”  


He said, “My family situation is a lot like others. My dad works as a private consultant, my mom is a school teacher, and my step dad works in a recycling plant.  I am paying for my own college—my parents are not helping me, which is why the Access grant is important to me.  My student loans are maxed out each year, and the Missouri Access Grant is the only way that I am able to stay here.”   


Currently, award amounts to students at independent institutions cover an average of 22 percent of tuition and fees, while awards to students at public institutions cover an average of 25 percent of tuition and fees. Just last year, the Coordinating Board for Higher Education noted that “the positive impact in terms of the number and financial need of students served has been overwhelming.” 


“Missouri’s independent colleges and universities are committed to ensuring that eligible students from working and lower-income families receive the financial aid that they need and des