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Mizzou announces full-tuition grants for low-income students

Mizzou announces full-tuition grants for low-income students

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COLUMBIA, Mo. • Jacqueline Dreppard was a little bit skeptical at first.

The University of Missouri-Columbia is going to cover all of her tuition and other expenses starting next year?

Her unexpected good fortune is owed to a Mizzou initiative announced Thursday that will dramatically boost financial aid across campus — a step that could offer a jolt to the school’s struggling student recruitment efforts.

Dreppard, a sophomore finance major and Oakville High School graduate, is one of more than 3,000 existing Mizzou students who, come fall 2018, will have their tuition covered by the university.

The deal is available to all first-time freshmen, transfer students and existing students who meet the requirements to receive a federal Pell grant, which is awarded to students who demonstrate financial need.

Under the plan, all tuition not covered by the federal grants will be paid for by the university. It’s available only for Missouri residents.

Mizzou expects to spend $5 million annually on the so-called Land Grants program, representing about 40 percent of Mizzou’s overall budget for need-based aid.

The new program has two components: the general Land Grants, and an extended program for honors students. Students who are accepted into the Honors College who are Pell grant-eligible will have all of their financial needs met, including room and board.

Tuition alone at Mizzou for an in-state student, assuming they take 14 credit hours, is around $11,000. But the maximum annual Pell grant amount is $5,920 for the current academic year, covering just more than half of tuition.

That gap, even after any additional scholarships, is a stressor for students like Dreppard. She works part time at a Columbia sandwich shop to help cover her extra costs, in addition to taking out some student loans.

“I want to go to law school after this, so it would be awesome to be able to start tucking away money I make for that,” she said. She might be able to cut back some of her hours down the line to focus on school, too, as appealing as it is to start chipping away at future law school debt.

Students won’t have to be eligible to receive the full Pell grant amount in order to receive the new scholarship. The details to qualify for the federal need-based aid vary based on household income and factors like the number of dependents in the family.

Most Pell grant funding goes to students from households earning less than $30,000 a year, but many families qualify at levels up to twice that or more depending on individual circumstances.

New Mizzou Chancellor Alex Cartwright announced the grants Thursday at a news conference in Jesse Hall, which was packed with students, employees and several legislators.

The chancellor empathized with the struggle of college affordability, as a former community college student who received his GED.

This new aid program will be part of Mizzou’s marketing pitch as the school tackles a new recruitment strategy that’s been hinted at during governing board meetings for months, highlighting a renewed focus on in-state students.

But a lot of the details around this program are unknown, including how much money leaders could expect to spend on scholarships during the first year. Mizzou currently has around 3,500 students who are Pell-eligible who will qualify for the grant come fall 2018, according to Pelema Morrice, vice provost of enrollment management.

But how will this help recruitment for fall 2018 freshmen? There’s no way to know.

“If we are able to enroll more low-income, Pell-eligible students, that’s part of why we’re here — that’s our mission,” Morrice said. “Investing in Missourians is why we’re here.”

The university has always provided need-based aid, but it’s usually a percentage of students’ unmet need after scholarships that can vary year by year. The goal is for this program to help the school recruit in all parts of Missouri, from St. Louis to the more rural parts of the state.

“We’re stepping up effort in a very assertive way,” Morrice said.

But one state lawmaker is not impressed with the initiative, calling it a publicity stunt by an institution in need of broader reform.

“This is another roundabout attempt from University System leadership to quell discussions of their systemic problems instead of addressing them head-on,” said Rep. Courtney Curtis, D-Ferguson, in a prepared statement.

Still, the response from students who will benefit from the initiative was jubilant.

DeMario Malone, who is an honors student, has a feeling his mom is going to scream into the phone when he tells her his tuition, room and board will be covered by his sophomore year.

Malone, a freshman pre-health professions major from Florissant, said this is huge for his family. His mother is an elementary school teacher with St. Louis Public Schools and his father is an entrepreneur.

“When your school puts a lot of effort into you with scholarships, it gives you a drive to prove to them that you were worth that money,” he said.

His family found a way to pay the $12,000 or so gap that his scholarships didn’t cover over all four years, but it was a challenge, he said. Malone offered to work to help, but among his scholarships is a time-consuming undergraduate research program, and he has big goals of joining student organizations.

“My parents were already skeptical about me working,” he said. “This will let me focus on school since I want to go to medical school.”

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Ashley Jost is the higher education reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Related to this story

After fretting since 2015 that the University of Missouri-Columbia's enrollment was declining along with its reputation, the university has taken a huge and positive step to boost its numbers and polish its image. The university is offering to cover all tuition costs for first-time freshmen, transfer and existing students who qualify for federal Pell grants, making the campus more available to diverse and low-income students.

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