A recent report from the League of Student Advocates showed substantial inequities in the distribution of four state-run student aid programs, calling for large-scale changes to state financial aid. The same day, Missouri State Representative Kevin Windham, who has been critical of the state’s scholarship programs during his three years in office, praised the report in a press release.

The report, published through the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, is formatted as a report card for the Missouri student aid programs Access Missouri, Fast Track, Bright Flight and A+. It gives the programs an F for “failing Missouri students, especially those with financial need.”

Windham told The Standard the programs are inequitable both in how they’re written and how they are distributed, citing community service requirements and problems with how distribution is handled within the legislation.

“The League of Student Advocates by way of The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis have provided an unflinching analysis of Missouri’s outdated, disjointed and inequitable scholarship programs, which legislators ought to take seriously,” Windham said in the press release.

According to the report, the Access Missouri and Fast Track programs reward aid based on financial need. The programs also award a greater number of students and award less aid to each individual student compared to Bright Flight and A+, which are not need-based.

“Missouri students suffer from the combined effects of program design flaws and insufficient appropriations in Missouri’s four primary scholarship programs,” the report states. “Awards in the need-based programs are approximately half the median awards in the programs that are non-need based. The net result is failure to meet student need, with the greatest adverse impact upon students who are Black or rural.”

The report offers several recommendations, the most substantial being a full restructuring of Missouri’s current scholarship system.

“The League of Student Advocates proposes that Missouri do away with the four programs and instead create a single program dedicated to awarding scholarships to the students with the highest financial need,” the report states.

The report also suggests several minor changes until the larger reform is accomplished. These include removing the community service requirement for A+ and increasing appropriations and award amounts for Access Missouri.

Several of Windham’s state scholarship reform bills, which were introduced in early 2021, have remained stagnant in the legislature since May. These bills focus on the sort of smaller changes suggested by the report.

“I don’t necessarily think that the proposal for a comprehensive program is radical,” Windham said in an interview with The Standard. “I would say it more so is a suggestion or recommendation to look at the state, look at our students, look at our institutions of higher education and say, ‘How do we create the best program for students and for the state of Missouri?’”

Sophomore political science major Ava Taylor is a recipient of the A+ scholarship. She said while “lower income students obviously need scholarships as well,” students like her, who come from middle-class families, shouldn’t be expected to afford college by default.

Paying for college would be substantially more difficult for her without the program, she said, given she doesn’t receive any additional aid from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

“Middle-class people are perceived to be able to pay for college really well, and that’s not necessarily always the case, I think,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the importance of A+ in her hometown of Hartville, Missouri demonstrates a need for the program among middle-class students. A+ was a deciding factor for many of her peers in determining whether or not they would go to college at all.

“I think getting rid of A+ would hurt a lot of people,” Taylor said. “That’s one of the few scholarships I was able to get because I don’t look like I need a whole lot, so I can’t really qualify for a lot of scholarships.”

Windham said he didn’t have specific plans for what a new program should look like, but reform decisions should come from students and administration from both the college and high school level.

“All these folks need to come to the table in order to come up with what this comprehensive program looks like rather than having a different array of programs that don’t necessarily fit together well,” Windham said.

Follow Andrew Unverferth on Twitter, @OverAnder

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