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Extra scholarship applicants means smaller awards

By AP/KWMU

Jefferson City, MO – A new college scholarship for Missouri students in financial need has attracted more participants than expected, meaning some students will get less money than originally planned.

The Access Missouri scholarship was created by lawmakers this year to replace two separate financial-needs-based scholarships. The state began sending out the first scholarship checks under the new program within the past week.

The Department of Higher Education is projecting that more than 43,000 students will receive the scholarship this school year. That's about 20 percent more than had been anticipated when the program was developed.

As a result, the department has reduced the maximum scholarship amount available to students by 30 percent to guard against exceeding the $74 million available for the program.

For a student at a public university, the change means he or she can receive up to $1,500 from an Access Missouri scholarship during the 2007-2008 school year, instead of the maximum $2,150 allowed under the new law.

Students at two-year colleges will be able to get up to $700, instead of the $1,000 maximum in the law; students at private schools will be able to receive up to $3,300, instead of the $4,600 allowed under the law.

The law creating the Access Missouri program requires a proportional reduction in the maximum scholarship amounts if state funding falls short of demand.

The department, in a report presented Thursday to its governing board, said the scholarship reduction is the result of the "tremendous expansion" of the number of eligible students. It also highlights the need to push for increased funding for the program, the department said.

The $74 million available for the scholarship program this year already is about three times what was available for needs-based scholarships last year.

State officials had expected an increase in the number of students receiving college scholarships, because the new law widened the eligibility criteria. But the exact amount of that increase was uncertain.

The department said Thursday that the Access Missouri scholarship should reach about 2.5 times as many students as received aid under the now disbanded Gallagher and Missouri Guarantee financial-needs-based scholarships during the 2006-2007 school year.

Sen. Gary Nodler, who sponsored the legislation creating the new scholarship program, said its first-year reduction in scholarship sizes is both positive and negative.

"The bad news would be that the benefit is reduced. The good news is that a lot more students are going to benefit," said Nodler, R-Joplin, adding that he believed the good outweighed the bad.

"Clearly our desire to vastly increase the number of Missouri families and students who receive the benefit is being met," he said.

Gov. Matt Blunt said he was excited so many students were eligible for the new scholarship.

"These are only projections at this time, but it is clear that more Missouri students than ever before will have access to needs-based scholarships due to the scholarship funding increases we enacted," Blunt said in a written statement.

Many college students may not yet know exactly how much money they will receive from the Access Missouri scholarship.

The University of Missouri-Columbia, for example, estimates that 5,500 students will receive the scholarship, said spokesman Christian Basi. But because the law creating the scholarship did not take effect until Aug. 28, after classes already had begun, the university did not include Access Missouri scholarship awards in the financial aid confirmation letters sent to students over the summer, Basi said.

University financial aid officials now are calculating how much money each student should receive from the Access Missouri program, he said. That amount will either be deducted from the students' tuition bills, deducted from their student loan amounts or refunded to the students if their tuition already has been paid, Basi said.

For students who already have received loans, the addition of an Access Missouri scholarship could mean they have to return some of that loaned money. In the long run, however, it also will mean they have to pay less in principal and interest.

At Missouri State University, about 600 students received state financial-needs-based scholarships last school year, said financial aid director Vicki Mattocks. This year, more than 2,500 students are expected to receive Access Missouri scholarships, she said.

Because of the effective date of the new law, those students weren't told they could be eligible for the Access Missouri scholarships until a couple of weeks ago, Mattocks said. But they should be getting letters next week notifying them of how much money they will receive, she said.

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