JEFFERSON CITY -- A bill discussed in the state Senate last week would bar Southeast Missouri State University from recruiting high school students eligible for free community college tuition from the state's A+ Schools program.
However, university officials expect little practical impact should it become law. And Sikeston R-6 A+ Coordinator Mignonne Flagg couldn't agree more.
"I don't see a lot of high pressure recruiting from Southeast. They have such a great base, and their alumni are so close, they don't do that much recruiting," Flagg noted.
The A+ Schools program provides eligible graduates of designated high schools with two years of free tuition to a community college or technical school. The program doesn't cover tuition at four-year universities.
However, Southeast, Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield and Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph do offer associate degree programs to A+ students in conjunction with other institutions.
Under the bill sponsored by state Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, students could still receive discounted tuition to attend those three schools under the program, but the institutions would be prohibited from marketing that fact to potential students.
"There is concern among community colleges that four-year institutions are taking away their students," Shields said.
But Flagg said she thinks many of the four-year colleges in Missouri work well with the community colleges, and many four-year colleges will transfer most of the community college hours.
In addition to students from Sikeston, graduates of Charleston, Cape Girardeau, Oak Ridge and Perryville high schools are among those eligible for the A+ program, provided they meet certain academic criteria. Last year Sikeston graduated 35 A+ qualified graduates with 19 of those graduates utilizing the benefits this year.
"Most students who go to Three Rivers or attend the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center through Three Rivers will go on to a four-year college. And some of the students don't even use the A+ tuition and go on to a four-year college," Flagg said.
Most college scholarship applications inquire about community service, and A+ students are required to complete 50 hours of community service, Flagg said. She added that approximately eight or nine four-year colleges in Missouri offer A+ scholarships, too. Sikeston R-6 currently has three graduates attending Truman State University on those scholarships.
"So A+ is not just for the students planning to go to the community colleges," Flagg pointed out.
Existing law allows Southeast and the other two schools to partner with two-year institutions under the A+ program because no community colleges are located nearby.
Randy Shaw, dean of the School of Polytechnic Studies, said the bill would have little effect on Southeast's participation in the program.
"We don't do any large scale recruiting," Shaw said. He added that students who use A+ funds to attend Southeast generally live outside of commuting distance to the two nearest community colleges -- Three Rivers in Poplar Bluff and Mineral Area in Park Hills.
In conjunction with Three Rivers, Southeast offers associate degree programs in child care and computer technology. Only 23 A+ program students are currently enrolled at the school. The state pays $80 per credit hour -- Three Rivers' rate -- for those students, who have to cover the difference between Southeast's regular tuition themselves.
The Senate set aside the bill without taking action but could return to it as early as this week.
"I really think a student knows where they're going to school after high school," Flagg said. "And that's based on many things, and certainly financial assistance is one of them."