Bright Flight scholarship expansion would keep students in Missouri after graduation

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By Stephanie Sandoval

JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri lawmaker wants to expand the Bright Flight scholarship program, but there’s a catch.

Students would need to score in the top 5 percent of Missouri test-takers on the ACT or SAT and promise to live and work in Missouri after graduation for at least four consecutive years.

“I would be forced to stay here because I don’t want to graduate with loans,” said Olivia Wilson, who testified on the bill during an April 18 hearing.

Wilson is a Bright Flight recipient from Liberty. She attends Westminster College and is earning degrees in political science and transnational studies as well as a minor in sociology. She plans to earn a master’s degree in public policy or strategic communications and work in policy analysis or public affairs after graduation.

She received the Taylor Family Endowed Scholarship, which covers full tuition for four years and room and board for her first two years. She also qualifies for the Access Missouri grant.

But she said her Bright Flight scholarship is one of the reasons she decided to stay in Missouri.

“I’m not in a financial position to be able to pick up and leave if I had to sign on that program,” Wilson said. “Some people may be, but I’m not.”

HB 2408 establishes the “Bright Flight Promise Program” — a revamped version of the current program. As of now, Bright Flight is a merit-based scholarship that gives qualifying students a maximum of $3,000 per year for attending an accredited college or university in Missouri. The bill essentially transforms the Bright Flight Program into a loan forgiveness program.

In the new program, students would be awarded a grant of up to the “actual cost” of tuition and fees charged by the institution. The scholarship does not cover books or room and board.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said the new program would keep students working in Missouri.

“We can do better at accomplishing that because right now Bright Flight doesn’t have any requirement that once that student is out of school that they remain in the state and participate in our economy,” Fitzpatrick said.

Under the Bright Flight Promise Program, students could earn as much as $10,700 per year. If the student decides to move out of state after graduation, the scholarship would turn into a loan. If they spend part of their time in the state after graduation but not all four years, they are allowed to keep some of the money.

“I think it makes sense for students to take it, whether or not they chose to stay in the state of Missouri,” Fitzpatrick said.

The actual award amount to Bright Flight recipients is dependent on the amount of funds allocated to the program during the previous year’s legislative session, according to information from the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

Wilson said her Bright Flight scholarship money was late this year.

“This year, I really didn’t think it was going to be funded, and that’s a bummer because I took my ACT four times to get the Bright Flight,” she said. “And I know students who took it more times to get the Bright Flight.”

During a discussion of the bill, Rep. Joe Adams, D-University City, said he likes the idea of giving students more money so they can graduate with little to no debt, but Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, said he has an issue with the fact students must live here for four years.

Wilson agrees. She thinks it’s great Fitzpatrick is trying to expand funding but worries the bill will restrict students unfairly.

“After graduation, I would have to stay for four years, which is really absurd,” Wilson said.

Wilson also said she has concerns when it comes to the funding of Bright Flight.

“The biggest change I could ask for right now is if they start fully funding it, and by that I mean they make it a priority in the budget,” Wilson said.