Nixon outlines plan to expand A-Plus program

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Gov. Jay Nixon wants to expand Missouri’s program that provides free tuition to community colleges, making it available to all qualifying public high school students in the state who meet income guidelines.

Nixon announced during his State of the State speech that he intends to push for expansion of the A-Plus program. The Democrat was in St. Louis Monday to outline his plan and call on lawmakers to pass the legislation.

The program covers the cost of tuition and fees for two years at public community colleges or technical schools. High school students must have a grade-point average of at least 2.5 and must meet attendance and behavior guidelines. They are also required to perform 50 hours of tutoring or mentoring.

More than 50,000 students have received A-Plus scholarships since the program began in 1997.

But only students attending high schools that have attained A-Plus designation qualify. While more than 300 schools have earned that designation, many have not. And many of those schools are in impoverished areas.

“Every good student in Missouri deserves the opportunity to go to college — whether they live in St. Louis or Kansas City, or in a rural county,” Nixon said during a visit to a St. Louis Community College satellite center.

“For too long, too many excellent Missouri high school students have been unable to get A-Plus scholarships — through no fault of their own — simply because their schools weren’t designated as A-Plus schools. That’s just not fair. And it needs to change.”

Nixon’s proposal would expand the scholarships to all public school students whose families have an adjusted annual gross income of up to approximately $55,000. Nixon’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 includes $1 million to expand the program.

Nixon’s office said the funding would provide scholarships for more than 700 additional students. The money for the expansion would come from the Department of Higher Education’s Guaranty Agency Operating Fund.

State Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Maryville, has filed legislation authorizing the A-Plus expansion.

Cindy Hess, president of the Forest Park campus of St. Louis Community College, said a growing number of St. Louis-area students are taking advantage of the A-Plus program.

“We know that through the A-Plus program we’re receiving more and more students who might not otherwise ever have access to college,” Hess said.

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