April 21, 2009 - Several Fontbonne students and staff, and one adjunct faculty member, trekked to the state's capitol April 8 to plead their case before the Missouri Senate's education committee. The road trip to Jefferson City was prompted by a state legislative battle that could have serious implications for students of independent institutions of higher learning across the state - including Fontbonne University.
The group was in opposition to legislation, introduced earlier this year, that sought to change the funding process for Access Missouri, a need-based grant program. The proposal called for lowering the maximum amount awarded to students attending independent colleges and universities, while the raising the amount for students at public institutions.
The Senate bill (at the time of this release) had not cleared its way out of committee, and the House bill never made its way to committee. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn May 15.
The threat is significant. More than 500 students at Fontbonne - 1/6 of the student body - receive the grants. Those receiving the maximum award of $4,600 could see a 38-percent reduction in their grant.
The crux of the private school argument is that the program was already designed to take into account the difference in tuition cost between private and public schools. The average award amount for students at independent schools was established to cover 22 percent of the average tuition at private schools across the state; conversely, the public school student award was set to cover 25 percent of the average tuition.
"I'm a single mother and I'm trying to go to school to make a better life for me and my children," said Fontbonne student Lauren Wright at the Senate committee hearing. "Reducing this aid for me, or for future students, would really have a negative impact. The program was established to be balanced and to change it now is unfair."
Choice of schools is another point of contention. The program allows students to apply their grant to whatever Missouri school they choose - public or private.
"I chose Fontbonne, an independent school, because it offers the programs I want to study in an environment that's helpful to my learning style," wrote Fontbonne student David Dickerson in a letter he sent to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "If Access Missouri is ‘equalized,' I and many other students I know will have to take out additional loans, or change schools - to somewhere that may not meet our needs as well as Fontbonne - or even quit school altogether."