Making the Money Work

July 19, 2017

Teresa.jpg By Teresa Steinkamp, The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis (at left with Executive Director Faith Sandler; post originally appeared at SFSTL.org)

“Please don’t make me go in,” I pleaded. Over the phone, my mom insisted. I HAD to do this; I was an adult and if Iwanted to be at Loyola I needed to walk into the financial aid office and ask my questions. The financial aid office was an intimidating place—it continues to be so on most campuses. Some things don’t change. 

My mom pushed me to take responsibility for myself and my actions; she encouraged me to ask questions. Her philosophy, handed down through generations, was that it was worth asking because the worst that could happen is that they would say “no”.

I would not have even been at Loyola if it weren’t for her. The school was out of reach for my family financially—but I really wanted to go. After we realized that a little bit more would make the difference, we called the financial aid office to ask about the possibility of more aid, even just a tiny bit. Something. Anything. It worked. They awarded the increase and they offered valuable information that, to this day, I believe allowed me to stay at Loyola and graduate without more debt than I did. If I could do well my freshman year academically, I could apply for a scholarship upgrade. Those modest award amounts are what bridged the gap.

Years later, I meet with hundreds of students annually in my role as Advising Director for The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis. Many of our students attend Missouri colleges and receive Access Missouri, the state’s need-based scholarship program. 

This spring, I started noticing financial aid offers which forecasted Access Missouri awards of $2,250. The minimum award required by the enabling legislation is $1,500 and Missouri seldom appropriates sufficient funds for award amounts to be much higher than the minimum. I cautioned students who were desperate for the dollars that this was a best-case scenario and that awards would likely be reduced.

My fears are now realized and I know that some students are about to be blindsided. Based on appropriations in the state budget, Access Missouri awards are a maximum of $1,850. Some students will receive less.

I know that losing $750 may not seem like a big deal to some. However, for our students and many more Missourians that amount of money makes the difference between their ability to attend college this fall and having to implement a backup plan. Every dollar counts for those who are struggling to make the money work.

Meanwhile, Missouri has increased the budget of Bright Flight, the state’s merit award, by $4 million (while adding nothing to Access Missouri). This sends a distress signal to Missouri students with financial need. Students with the greatest need are most likely to have the rug pulled out from underneath them at the last moment. We must do better to support Missouri. We must set our priorities straight.

If you are a legislator in Missouri, please join us in recognizing the value of Missouri students with financial need. Look for us in Jefferson City as you are making your decisions.

If you work in a financial aid office, please be careful when estimating Access Missouri awards. Students would much rather hear later of a modest increase than learn they have a greater shortfall.

If, like me, you work directly with students and families navigating financial aid, remind all that award amounts are subject to change based on state appropriations.

If, like me, you are a Missouri resident and believe in the power of people to make change for a better community, contact your representatives and ask them to support future increases to Access Missouri.

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