- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - In a story Dec. 16 about Missouri higher education officials backing off a plan to make scholarships available to students of an online university, The Associated Press misidentified a group that opposes the plan. It is the Independent Colleges and Universities of Missouri, not the Independent Colleges and University of Missouri.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Missouri backs off proposed scholarship change

Missouri agency backs off proposal to make scholarships available through online university


Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri higher education officials are backing off an attempt to make scholarships available to students at an online university, after the proposal drew opposition from some traditional institutions and sparked plans for a legislative hearing.

A joint House and Senate panel had been scheduled to meet Wednesday to consider blocking a proposed rule change for scholarship eligibility that would have redefined what it means for an institution to be “located in Missouri.” The intent was to make Access Missouri scholarships available to students at Western Governors University-Missouri, an online-only school.

But the hearing was canceled Tuesday after the Department of Higher Education withdrew the proposed rule change. A memo from the department to the legislative committee said the agency wants to “provide additional time to discuss the issues further with interested parties.”

Gov. Jay Nixon had directed the agency to ensure WGU-Missouri students could receive state financial aid when he signed an executive order in February 2013 establishing a Missouri branch of the online university, which is based in Salt Lake City.

The rule change was opposed by the Independent Colleges and Universities of Missouri, a collection of 21 private institutions. That group contends that any scholarship changes should require passage of a law, not merely a rule by a state agency. It also has raised concerns that other out-of-state institutions could use of the scholarships, thus expanding the pool of eligible recipients and ultimately resulting in a smaller amount of aid available for each student.

The decision to drop the proposed rule marked an abrupt change for department officials.

The independent colleges group had sent the department a letter outlining its concerns in June. As recently as Dec. 10, the agency’s deputy commissioner, Leroy Wade, had sent a letter to the legislative panel defending the proposed rule change and dismissing the objections raised against it.

The Associated Press published an article about the proposed rule change over the weekend. The memo withdrawing the rule was dated Monday.

“We’ve decided that rather than go forward with this - if there are these level of questions - we’re better to take the time to talk to them and see what kind of compromise position we can meet,” Wade said in an interview Tuesday.

If the department later decides to pursue the rule change again, it will have to start from scratch. That process can take six months or more.

“We’re still optimistic that there will come a point where we’re able to have our students access those funds - it’s just a matter of time,” said Angie Besendorfer, the chancellor at WGU-Missouri.

Students at the online university are not currently eligible for state scholarships because WGU-Missouri is not considered to be located in Missouri. Under the proposed rule change, an accredited institution whose main campus is elsewhere could have qualified if it had a building in Missouri, employed at least 25 Missouri residents, enrolled at least 750 Missouri students, had a Missouri-based oversight board and agreed to supply data to state officials. All of those criteria would have been met by WGU-Missouri, Besendorfer said.


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