Gov. Jay Nixon today visited Union Star School in DeKalb County to congratulate the school on its efforts to achieve the state's A+ Schools designation at the end of this school year, and to encourage students there to take advantage of the program, which offers two years of free tuition and academic fees at Missouri's community colleges. The Governor also praised Union Star for achieving the designation as a School of Distinction for the past five years in a row.
"Now, more than ever, an education after high school is critical to creating more opportunities for our graduates," Gov. Nixon said. "I'm proud of the teachers and staff who have put Union Star on the path to achieving the A+ designation this year. I encourage Union Star students to participate in the A+ program by working hard, volunteering and keeping up their grades so they can be A+ scholars and earn a college education."
Under the A+ program, Missouri students can earn a scholarship to cover the cost of tuition and academic fees for two years at any public two-year community college or technical school in the state. To be eligible for the program, students must meet academic achievement, conduct and attendance requirements, and perform 50 hours of tutoring or mentoring service.
Since 1997, almost 125,000 high-achieving Missouri students have qualified for A+ scholarships, and more than 50,000 have taken advantage of those financial incentives for at least one semester. In total, Missouri students have received more than $250 million in A+ scholarships since 1997. Since Gov. Nixon took office, 148 schools have earned the A+ designation, bringing the state total to 402 public high schools in Missouri. Union Star School will officially earn the designation next spring.
During an extensive, multi-year designation process, schools seeking A+ status must develop strategies to address a number of key issues, including dropout prevention, student achievement and college and career preparation. Schools receive the A+ designation after review and final approval by the State Board of Education.
Participation by Missouri students in the A+ program has grown by 30 percent during Gov. Nixon's tenure in office. Projections for fiscal year 2013, which began in July 2012, estimate that 14,000 students will be taking advantage of the scholarships this year.
Gov. Nixon has ensured that continued state funding is available to provide these scholarships for the record number of students participating in A+. For fiscal year 2013, the budget proposed by Gov. Nixon makes more than $29 million available to fund the A+ program. The Governor's funding recommendation was maintained in the appropriations bill passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor.
Union Star School also earned the state's Distinction in Performance Designation for the 2011-2012 school year; Union Star has achieved the designation each of the past five years. For a public school district to achieve the Distinction in Performance Designation, the district must meet at least 13 out of 14 academic standards, including all six Missouri Assessment Program standards.
"For Missouri to compete and win in today's economy, we must continue to invest in our schools and our workforce," Gov. Nixon said. "That's why I made sure that the budget kept our commitment to this important program, and why I will continue to work with Missouri's institutes of higher learning to prevent tuition costs from skyrocketing."
Earlier this month, the national non-partisan College Board Advocacy and Policy Center released a state-by-state analysis of college tuition rates throughout the country. The report found that during the past three years, Missouri's public four-year institutions' tuition and fee increases were the lowest in the nation. Similarly, Missouri's public two-year institutions' tuition and fee increases were the fourth lowest in the nation. Tuition rates at all of Missouri's higher education institutions remain below the national average, while Missouri's colleges and universities continue to see record enrollment.