Representatives from public and private universities will gather as part of a newly formed task force to seek a consensus on Access Missouri scholarships.
Robert Stein, Missouri Department of Higher Education commissioner, invited representatives from 10 universities to review the policy for the distribution of need-based Access Missouri scholarships.
The controversy regards whether Missouri students attending private universities should receive the same amount of scholarship money as students attending public universities. The scholarship money offered to private school students is more than double the money offered to public school students. The maximum amount available to public university students is $2,150 and $4,600 for private school students.
The task force will debate alternative methods of distributing the scholarships, said Kathy Love, Missouri Department of Higher Education spokeswoman.
"The task force aims to get parties together to see whether maybe there is a better way to make graduated award amounts rather than public and private," Love said. "One idea is to base it on college graduation rates, (so students will receive more aid if they attend) institutions that show they moved their students through college most efficiently."
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and Gov. Jay Nixon support legislation that would equalize the scholarship amounts to $2,850, according to their Web sites. The Coordinating Board for Higher Education voted in agreement of the scholarship distribution policy, Love said.
Before Access Missouri scholarships, there was no scholarship program in Missouri based solely on financial need. Students are eligible for the scholarship if their expected family contribution is $12,000 or less.
Representatives from public schools argue the $95 million budget for Access Missouri scholarships is not divided fairly between private and public institutions. UM system spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead said in a news release the state has an obligation to its public institutions and aid for students should be equalized.
"All schools are facing the recessional economy and financial challenges just as the state is facing financial challenges with their budget," Westminster College spokesman Rob Crouse said. "The economic climate is different now from when Access Missouri first was established. Now they have to come back and sit down in a different financial climate today and revisit the issue to see if they can financially agree on something that everyone is comfortable in supporting."
Private universities support the scholarship program as it is funded, Central Methodist University spokesman Don Cullimore said.
"Higher amounts are awarded to students at private universities because the cost of independent schools is considerably more than the cost of public schools," Cullimore said. "The student may also prefer to be on a smaller campus. Public schools are already tax supported by the state."
The task force includes UM system President Gary Forsee, Westminster College President Barney Forsythe and Central Methodist University President Marianne Inman, along with seven other representatives.
The scholarship distribution policy expires in 2013, Love said. Proposed legislation would go into effect no earlier than 2014.