Building a quality talent base is the critical path forward for regional and statewide economic development. In today’s competitive and global economy, much of that quality talent base requires a post-secondary education. We have been pleased to see a number of state leaders challenge the proposed higher education cuts in Gov. Greitens’ proposed budget. In particular, we applaud Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick’s leadership in proposing a budget allocating an additional $37.6 million to our higher education institutions while proposing a $30 million dollar increase to our state’s only need-based scholarship program, Access Missouri. The proposed increase to Access Missouri is the right investment for our state at this crucial time in higher education.
As college education costs continue to soar, aid available to support students with the greatest financial needs has declined. The St. Louis Regional Chamber’s education strategy—best captured in the St. Louis Regional Education Commitment — calls for increasing need-based aid. Expanding the funds in Access Missouri by $30 million will help more students, particularly those with significant unmet need, pursue a post-secondary education.
National research affirms the high impact of even small amounts of need-based aid in increasing educational attainment levels. According to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, students who receive need-based grants are more likely to enroll and successfully complete college at a faster rate than their socioeconomic peers. For students with the greatest need, financial aid is critical to their ability to successfully cross the finish line with their degree in hand.
With such a large increase to Access Missouri, we expect a larger aggregate shift in the number of people graduating with the kind of credentials that make Missouri attractive to business. These credentials also provide greater levels of earnings for individuals, thus leading to a greater tax base and more consumption of goods and services.
After years of being underfunded and failing to keep up with the need, Rep. Fitzpatrick’s proposal is a positive step in the right direction. We hope that additional funding for Access Missouri will ensure that the average award for students increases above the current average of $1,600. We call upon his colleagues in the General Assembly to support funding that will lay a stronger foundation for building the talent base Missouri needs to compete for jobs now and in the future.