This past week The Active Advocacy Coalition has been in Jefferson City, Missouri, lobbying for reallocations to be made in state-funded higher education financial aid programs. These changes would eliminate or significantly reduce funding for merit-based scholarships, like Bright Flight, and increase funding to need-based programs, like Access Missouri. The advocacy group believes that current state funding to Bright Flight would be better used if given to need-based programs. The coalition argues that students who receive the Bright Flight scholarship do not need or depend upon the state aid as much as other students because of how funds are being awarded. According to the group, Bright Flight’s funds are being unevenly dispersed throughout the state. Students from more prominent school districts are receiving aid, while students from less affluent districts aren’t receiving anything. Additionally, the coalition found that Bright Flight recipients tend to come from higher income families where there is more family assistance for schooling. Instead of scholarships being awarded on merit, the coalition argues the scholarships are awarded based on where the student went to school and the opportunities the student has been born into. The group also states that Bright Flight does not determine if students will attend college, but where. Bright Flight was originally implemented in the 1980s to keep gifted Missouri students within state schools where they would contribute back to the state’s economy and labor force. Recipients of the scholarship must have an ACT score within the state’s top 3 percent, which is usually a score of 31 or higher. Students who qualify receive $3,000 in aid for 10 semesters if they stay within Missouri for schooling. In contrast, Access Missouri is a need-based program that is determined by Estimated Family Contribution rather than test scores. According to Cindy Spotts-Conrad, a Financial Aid Advisor at Missouri Western, if a student’s EFC is below $7,000 then the student receives $1,850 for the academic year. If the EFC is between $7,000 and $12,000, then the aid received is $1,500 for the academic year. Currently 39 students here at Western are receiving Bright Flight scholarships, totaling $114,000 in state funding. Western has 1,368 students receiving Access Missouri funding, totaling $2,140,225. Across the state, there are 51,200 students receiving Access Missouri funding and 6,300 students receiving Bright Flight funding. If state funding were reduced or eliminated from Bright Flight, Spotts-Conrad does not feel it would be as simple to reallocate funding as the coalition presumes. “It's tempting to say that if the $17.4 million in Bright Flight funding were transferred to the Access Missouri Program, it could potentially result in an additional $340 per student in need based aid, which is significant. But it's not that simple because the State determines award values based on funding levels and the number of potentially eligible FAFSA filers,” Spotts-Conrad said. Some students who are still in need of financial aid would not receive this aid due to the funding restrictions and criteria. However, Spotts-Conrad does see the benefit in increasing funding to need-based scholarships. “We are strong supporters of both need and merit based aid programs… however, every dollar received in grant aid results in one less dollar our neediest students must borrow,” Spotts-Conrad said. Bright Flight recipient Makenna Snyder sees benefit in keeping funding for both scholarships. “I think a balance of both merit and need based scholarships are necessary to evenly distribute students in universities across the state. Of course, monetary assistance through need-based scholarships is going to allow students who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise go to college. However, merit-based scholarships are equally important for students with great potential to go to a variety of schools regardless of income,” Snyder said. Bright Flight recipient Graham Deckard sees a bigger issue at hand though. He believes the root of the problem is not in how students get financial aid, but how expensive public higher education is. “It is my belief that we are doing a massive disservice to all students when this gets framed as a clean cut duality between merit and need. If both of these schools of thought could focus on dismantling a system of education that absolutely gauges students' wallets then we may have a better shot at an overall paradigm shift that would be mutually beneficial to both parties,” Deckard said. In Governor Jay Nixon’s proposed budget for 2017, funding has been increased for state aid education programs by $7 million, with Access Missouri gaining $4 million in funds and Bright Flight gaining $500,000. This would increase state totals for Access Missouri to $71.3 million and Bright Flight to $17.9 million.
Missouri Western and the city of St. Joseph have signed a deal to share the annual operating costs of the Looney Pool in exchange for use. The agreement means that the pool will stay at Western and will undergo renovations. According to a transcript from the Jan. 21 Faculty Senate meeting, the $180,000 annual cost will also be shared by the St. Joseph School District and Buchanan County. Western will pay about $90,000 annually for maintenance and operations, and the city will pay $61,400. Vice President for Student Affairs Shana Meyer said there is no signed agreement with Buchanan County at this time and that they are a potential partner. Meyer also said that bids have been sent out for the renovations. "We have the agreement with the city and I believe that they were going to forward that on to the city commission, but the agreement has been signed and we're moving forward with that, and we're working through the bid process right now," Meyer said. The current plan is to close the pool in May in order to begin renovations and to have it opened again by the start of the Fall semester in August. As part of the agreement with the city, the Looney Pool will have times open for public use. Meyer said people who wish to use the pool at these times who are not affiliated with Western will have to pay a fee, but a set price hasn't been set yet. "We've talked about trying to use a similar structure as to what the city runs on right now for the local pools but we have not finalized any of that information," Meyer said. The Air National Guard may also be paying towards the pool, but for weekend rental to use for training purposes. The total cost for renovations is not yet known, but $450,000 of student money will be used from the Student Success Act.
The number of undergraduates enrolled at Missouri Western is down from last year. So are the amount of credit hours they are taking, and the number of students living on campus. After conducting a census four weeks into the semester, Missouri Western found that it had enrolled 5,352 undergraduate students. This is down from last fall, which saw an undergraduate enrollment of 5,742 students. Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeanne Daffron said that this drop was expected and that there were several reasons for it happening. “We’ve been anticipating this for quite some time,” Daffron said. “It’s definitely a state trend, and it’s very definitely a national trend. We know that there are fewer students graduating high school, and then something that is a little bit of a surprise, nationally, is that there are a lower percentage of students choosing to go to college.” These trends have impacted an important measuring unit for the university: first-time, full-time freshmen. This group has fallen from 874 students last fall to 769 this semester. This group helps provide Missouri Western with its retention rates and graduation rates, Daffron said. “There is a lot of attention on retention and graduation rates, so it’s all about that first-time, full-time cohort,” Daffron said. “If we’re talking about retention rates, it’s how many of that group - that first-time, full-time group - how many of those come back the second year… When you say ‘X percent graduated,’ it’s only of that group.” While the number of first-time, full-time students has dropped, the retention rate has remained around the same level it was last year: around 64 percent. There has also been a drop in the amount of credit hours Western students have enrolled in for this semester as well. This was also to be expected, Daffron said. “They follow pretty closely with headcount,” Daffron said. “If you’re down in headcount, you’re going to be down in credit hours.” While credit hours and undergraduate enrollment is down, graduate enrollment is up. Currently, there are 219 graduate students enrolled at MWSU, up from 210 in the spring. Another area that has seen a drop in numbers is the number of students using on-campus housing. This number decreased from around 1,300 students last fall to 1,115 students living in the halls this semester. Nathan Roberts, director of Residential Life, said a change in housing policy was a contributor to the decline. “We are down from last year. Some of that was planned because of policy change,” Roberts said. “We looked at the one policy about letting part-time students live on campus, and most universities don’t allow that. So, we figured that was going to be the cleanest solutions since our main mission is to house first-year students, and if we’re putting that in jeopardy, we really need to focus on it.” Despite the reduction in students living on campus, Residential Life has maintained its staff, and that has its advantages, Roberts said. “We kept our staff numbers the same and we have the same amount of RAs,” Roberts said. “I would say from a general student’s perspective that they probably see their [residential] staff a lot more often, and we have been able to interact and build community better.” While MWSU’s numbers may be down, there is still a sense of optimism about the future of the university. “We had several years of record enrollment, really significant enrollment,” Daffron said. “I kind of think we are settling back into a norm.” “Overall, I think that the university is moving in the right direction, even though the numbers might not speak that,” Roberts said. “You can’t always look at numbers. You have to look at what the university is doing, what the students are doing and what that experience is like.”
Two former congressmen visited Missouri Western last Thursday in celebration of Constitution Day. Former Congressmen Bill Sarpalius, D-Texas, and Steven Kuykendall, R-Calif., came as part of the Congress to Campus program that was hosted by the departments of Economics, Sociology and Political Science, and History and Geography. They spoke at several events and classrooms throughout the day to discuss the Constitution, campaign finance reform and the lack of cooperation in federal politics today. At the start of Constitution Day, a federal holiday that began in 2004, the congressmen spoke about the document as the subject of the day’s celebration. “I call it the Miracle Day, when our constitution was approved,” Sarpalius said. “When they put all those brilliant minds together, they put together a beautiful, beautiful document.” “The document itself has proven its ability to be flexible, from the time people rode on horseback and sailed on sailboats to the time when we all pick up our iPhones and know more about the world than when they started [writing the Constitution],” Kuykendall said. A major theme of discussion was the role of corporate money in the political system today. “When the Supreme Court made the ruling that corporations can now basically give an unlimited amount of money to elections, what they did with that ruling was basically put every member of Congress up for sale,” Sarpalius said. Kuykendall throughout the day stressed that people vote and participate in the political process. “A corporation can give you a lot of money, but it can’t go in the voting booth,” Kuykendall said. “So the power is still in the hands of the voter… You don’t have any say at all if you don’t vote.” Sarpalius also voiced support for a citizen’s initiative to hold a constitutional convention to amend the Constitution and get rid of corporate money in politics. “I think you have to go in there and amend the Constitution,” Sarpalius said. “I’m for a constitutional convention. I think we need to make some changes that Congress will not address.” Later in the evening, the congressmen who have been out of office for over a decade discussed the seemingly dysfunctional and polarized nature of today’s Congress. “Contentious times are not new to the United States,” Kuykendall said. “I would put out that one of the reasons we have dysfunction is because the public now perceives that to be the case, because they have a flow of information that they didn’t have 200 years ago.” Political science professor Dr. Ed Taylor was involved in getting the Congress to Campus program to come to Missouri Western. “I think it’s important to have the opportunity to talk with people who have been in the ‘devil’s den,’” Taylor said. “Americans look at politics and they say it’s broken, but they never really get the chance to talk to people who have tried to work within the system and hear their experiences.” Junior political science major Doug Wilson was in one of the classes the congressmen visited. “It was a really interesting conversation,” Wilson said, “mainly because the perspectives were so different from what we see today.” History major Evan Banks attended several of the events that day. “It’s a day to reflect on the good things that came about from the Constitution, the shortcomings of the Constitution, and how we can continue to endorse a living document,” Banks said.
The Glenn E. Marion Clock Tower was rededicated Monday evening as part of the Western centennial celebration. Golden accents were added to the tower along with twelve golden pillars and a new golden plating for each of the clocks four faces, in commemoration of the one hundred years of Missouri Western history. In addition to the renovations to the clock tower, the Student Government Association also presented a time capsule program to allow students to preserve their own portion of Western history. Missouri Western Student Governor Lionel Attawia said,“It is important just because students here at this moment are here at a very special time and just by choosing to come to Missouri Western you're automatically a part of Missouri Western’s history. So whenever you put on a shirt that says you’re a Missouri Western Griffon you are signifying that you are a part of something bigger than yourself.” The tower was originally dedicated in 1997, given its namesake after a former professor of engineering and admirer of architecture Glen E. Marion. To go along with the celebration, students and organizations of Missouri Western could put an important token to be remembered by future Griffons in a time capsule. Throughout the remainder of the semester students and organizations have the opportunity to submit something to the time capsule, after filling out the prerequisite paperwork. The time capsule will be sealed in December of this year and will not be reopened until 2065. Western President Robert Vartabedian is in hopes that this time capsule will serve as an important piece of Western history, for future students to reflect upon. “My hope that is in 50 years from now, in 2065, Missouri Western will have continued to accomplish this important aspiration, improving the lives of our deserving students,” said Vartabedian. Junior Paul Godberson enjoyed the ceremony and liked the idea of submitting a personal items to represent Missouri Western's history. “It was short sweet and to the point, and I liked the idea of writing letters to our future selves,” Godberson said. Students were enthusiastic about the time capsule, including senior Rachal Jackson “I thought it was really nice. I’m glad Dr. Vartabedian came out and spoke as our president, also the turnout was really good from students,” Jackson said.