COLUMBIA, Mo. ― Education officials are notifying Missouri community colleges that the state might reduce reimbursements for the A+ scholarship program, which gives high school graduates who meet certain criteria money for two years of classes at community colleges.
The notification is “very pre-emptive” and reimbursement rate reductions would not take effect until January at the earliest, said Leroy Wade, deputy commissioner of the higher education department. The schools have been told students reimbursements for tuition and fees might be reduced by three or four credit hours per student, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported.
“If you look at enrollment information for institutions, particularly community colleges, you’ll see a decline,” Wade said. “A+ is running counter to that — it continues to grow.”
The program is becoming more expensive for the state because tuition and fees are rising. Currently, the state is estimating about a 3 percent increase in A+ participants and a 4 percent increase in tuition and fee expenditures. The program cost the state $30.4 million in fiscal 2013, a nearly $3 million increase from fiscal 2013.
The Legislature appropriated $35 million for fiscal 2015 but Gov. Jay Nixon withheld about $2 million of that appropriation. The money was not among funds Nixon released last week after the Legislature’s veto session.
“It’s clear that if that doesn’t get released, we are probably going to have to go through with this,” Wade said. “It’s contingent on that at least in part. If he released that money, we’d have to reassess. I’m not sure if we could fully fund it still at that point.”
In order to qualify for the A+ program, high school students must maintain at least a 2.5-grade point average, perform 50 hours of tutoring and meet attendance requirements.
The department won’t know how many students are being funded until the beginning of next year, Wade said.
Zora Mulligan, executive director of the Missouri Community College Association, said schools are studying the accuracy of the higher education department’s projections and considering possible steps if reimbursements are reduced.
“Making sure A+ is fully funded is one of our top legislative priorities,” Mulligan said, adding that one possibility is seeking supplemental funding from the legislature.