Michael Q. McShane

Earlier this week, the University of Missouri announced that it has created the Missouri Land Grant and Land Grant Honors scholarship programs. Both will cover all tuition and fees for eligible low-income Missouri residents.

I think this is a great idea, for one reason that is obvious, and for another that might be less so.

The obvious reason is that we have a public university system (note that the university’s name for the program harkens back to the “land grant” nature of Mizzou) to provide higher education to bright students who might not otherwise be able to afford it. This intuition is not new in America.

Thomas Jefferson, the father of the University of Virginia, himself wrote of students:

“that they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance; but the indigence of the greater number disabling them from so educating, at their own expence, those of their children whom nature hath fitly formed and disposed to become useful instruments for the public, it is better that such should be sought for and educated at the common expence of all, than that the happiness of all should be confided to the weak or wicked.”

As college costs increase, our universities are pricing out many students who would thrive at them, but simply cannot afford the skyrocketing tuition. This program will work to solve that problem and we should laud it for that.

But the second reason why this program is a great idea is subtler.

In the past, efforts to try and help low income student attend college have had unintended consequences. Typically, states and the federal government have given low-income students scholarships, like Pell grants, or subsidized loans to help defray the cost of education. In response, many universities started to “price” these scholarships into the cost of tuition, banking on the fact that students will automatically be able to pay it, and this has driven up the cost of schooling.

Mizzou’s program is different. Rather than rely on outside funding, Mizzou is footing the bill itself. That means that any increase in the cost of providing an education is borne by Mizzou. This should provide a powerful disincentive for the school to become more expensive.

Now, the devil is always in the details, and the program isn’t launching for another school year, so we won’t know the full scope and effect of the program for some time. But if programs like these are representative of the type of bold thinking that university leaders are engaging in, Mizzou is putting itself on a much better path into the future.

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About the Author

Michael McShane

Mike McShane is the Director of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.