Monday, April 28, 2008

Nixon Pledges To Expand College Scholarships

Nixon on Higher Ed: "Missouri has moved backwards"
Gov. Blunt: "His numbers do not add up."
PLUS: Nixon campaign answers your questions before you thought of them . . . (See Below)
Attorney General Jay Nixon toured some of the state's largest universities Monday to unveil a $61 million dollar plan aimed at expanding college scholarships for 13,000 additional high school students.
While neither of the major Republican candidates offered a formal response to Nixon's plan, Governor Matt Blunt swiftly lambasted Nixon's record and the cost of his plan.
To expand the number of scholarships, Nixon wants to expand the existing A+ plan, which his campaign said is only available "to only half the state’s high school students." The presumptive Democratic nominee for Governor also wants to offer students a contract which would allow the student to earn a 4-year degree after completing a 2-year degree at a technical or community college, if that student meets certain academic, community service and discipline requirements. A formula will determine which families fit under Nixon's definition of "middle class."
"The Blunt administration slashed $350 million from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, the agency responsible for providing low-interest loans to middle-class Missouri families. Under this administration, Missouri ranks last in the nation in higher education funding increases. More high school students are dropping out because they don’t see higher education in their future, and those who do attend college are graduating with more debt than ever," Nixon said. "Missouri is clearly moving in the wrong direction."
The Blunt administration responded today by accusing Nixon of blocking every attempt by the Governor to make college more affordable. “Gov. Blunt’s scholarship budgets quadruple the number of needs-based scholarships for the new Access Missouri program which was created by legislation Jay Nixon urged the governor to veto. The governor’s Access Missouri program is providing 38,994 students with scholarship assistance, compared to the 17,000 Missouri students that were served under the old system," the Blunt administration said in a response. Blunt said if he had vetoed that bill, 5,000 fewer students would be receiving scholarships.
Nixon estimates it will cost $25 million to expand the A+ program by allowing all students who meet A+ criteria to participate in the A+ program, even if their school was not designated an A+ school. Assuming a doubling in participation over the current plan, the Nixon campaign said the new program would cost about $36 million dollars to implement.
The Blunt administration jumped on Nixon's numbers.
“Jay Nixon also offered no plan to pay for this initiative and his numbers do not add up. According to The Associated Press, he said his plan will cost $61 million, but somehow help 26,000 students. That comes to $2,346. Clearly that does not cover a year of college," read the Blunt administration release. “Either the Nixon plan will not help nearly as many students as he claims or it will cost taxpayers far more than he admits.”
In their campaign materials, the Nixon camp also included a Q&A fact sheet with these prepared exchanges:
Q: When Mel Carnahan originally introduced the A+ program, he meant for it to be a pathway to a technical education at a 2-year community or technical college? Doesn’t this program put that original purpose at risk?
A: No. Again, all of the finer details will be worked out with the stakeholders at the table, but Missouri Promise will build upon the existing A+ program without compromising the original intent of the A+ program. We’re not trying to change students minds and say “you have to complete a 4-year degree.”We’re simply giving them that option. What’s more, it will give students who originally had no intention of attending any college an incentive to do so, knowing that their education does not have to end after two years. It can – they have that option. They can decide to find gainful employment using the practical, real-world skills they received at the 2 year college.
Q: You say students have to complete 50 hours of community service. Right now, that requirement is only for students still in High School – are you suggesting that extends to students in college?
A: Yes. Thousands of Missourians give back to the community every day and it’s not too much to ask – if they are receiving a benefit paid for by tax payers – that they contribute to their communities. In order to stay eligible for a Missouri Promise scholarship, students will have to complete 50 hours of community service every year they are in the program.

Q: Some might argue that raising the GPA requirement will not benefit the “at risk” students you seem to be targeting. What would you say to this?
A: There is no doubt our curriculum should be tailored to meet individual learning needs. That being said, this is a tremendous benefit and a student should be willing to work hard for it. Whats more, it provides the incentive at a very early age. If they work hard in high school, they get to go to a community or technical school tuition free. If they work hard on that level, they can make a 4-year dream a reality. As much as I think Missouri needs to do something to put a college education in the hands of more students, I believe more students must learn what it means to have some personal responsibility. I am not looking to give hand-outs – I am looking to reward personal achievement and responsibility and make dreams a reality.

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