Scholarship Cuts for Private University Students Favor Institutions, not Students
Meanwhile, the General Assembly, through House Bill 1812 and Senate Bill 784, is focused on reform of the Access Missouri grant. Currently, Access Missouri is structured to award a maximum of $1,000 in aid to students enrolled in two-year Missouri public schools, $2,150 to students at four-year public schools, and $4,600 for students attending Missouri's private colleges and universities. The bills in consideration would equalize these aid amounts to a maximum of $2,850 for all students, across all participating schools.
Choking the channels of aid to private school students while continuing to lavish aid on public school students only exacerbates the inequality and inefficiency that is characteristic of how the state currently supports its students. The current level of funds that the state awards to public school students already dwarfs the pool of funds directed toward private school students. In 2009, the General Assembly appropriated roughly $808 billion for four-year public higher education institutions. This amounts to an average per-student subsidy of approximately $7,280.
On top of this, qualifying public school students enjoyed an additional $56 million of publicly funded scholarships. Meanwhile, private school students received no per-student subsidies and shared a slightly smaller total of $52 million in public scholarship funds. Those who argue in favor of equalizing Access Missouri funds are misguided when they consider only Access Missouri and ignore the state's larger funding apparatus. Put simply, moving toward greater equality in Access Missouri is also a move toward greater inequality in total state support. There is, and always has been, a large disparity of public aid distributed between public and private students. Both reform proposals increase the size of this wedge. It is imperative, then, to consider whether this wedge is justified.
In 2008, Missouri's Coordinating Board for Higher Education adopted a set of basic values to guide higher education policy in the state. First among the list of values, the board recognized that the system is focused on students, learning, and each individual's realization of his or her full educational potential. The proposed reforms to higher education funding fail to do this vision justice.
First, the reforms do not support the full realization of student potential because they fail to honor the individual interests, skills, and needs of Missouri's diverse student population. For example, no public institutions in Missouri offer a complete architectural studies program, so students with an interest in architecture must turn to private institutions. On the margin, students unable to finance a private school education without assistance will necessarily settle for public-institution programs to which they are comparatively less suited.
Second, the proposed reforms pervert the vision of a higher education funding apparatus as centered on students. Instead, the reforms elevate the importance of institutions and suggest that students who attend public institutions are somehow more deserving of the taxpayer dime than students attending private colleges and universities. This is especially disturbing when considering that students attending private institutions contribute along with their parents funds to the pool of tax dollars that finance Missouri's support for higher education. The reform bills in the legislature would only serve to more unevenly distribute the resources of this pool. Meanwhile, Nixon's proposal would restrict private students access to the pool entirely.
The governor has said, In times like these, we simply can't continue to subsidize the choice to attend a private school.â€ This seems to suggest that the institutional choices that students make should be more relevant to the amount of aid they receive than their income, ability, or interest. This view fails to recognize that it is precisely in times like these that Missouri cannot afford to abandon its principles, or its investments in higher education students regardless of the institutions they choose.
Abhi Sivasailam is an intern with the Show-Me Institute and an economics student at the University of Missouri Columbia.