Affordability Key to Mission of Improving Access to Postsecondary Education

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon sees education’s role in economic development as plain and simple.

“Education is, quite simply, the best economic development tool there is,” he said during Friday’s opening session, “Postsecondary Education for the 21st Century.” “As we look to a future in which two-thirds of occupations will require a college degree, we must intensify our efforts to ensure that students have access to higher education.”

Douglas Wood of the Ford Foundation said making postsecondary education more accessible to a broad range of students, including nontraditional students who face unique challenges to entering college at later stages in their lives, is critical to this mission.

About 40 percent of college students are 25 or older and face issues such as financial obligations, transportation limitations, and family and child care responsibilities, which often present critical challenges to their ability to return to school.

The Ford Foundation believes the three goals of value, affordability and accountability should be the foundation for postsecondary education.

“We want to hold higher education to the highest standards,” Wood said, so the full range of students can become integral parts of moving the economy forward.

Nixon outlined several efforts Missouri is making to increase access to higher education, including making college more affordable.

“We live in a country in which the student loan debt exceeds the credit card debt,” Nixon said. For many potential students, he noted, the financial burden of college prevents them from seeking out higher degrees.

A new program called A+, however, aims to change that reality for many low- and middle-income Missouri students by providing scholarships for two years of schooling. Meanwhile, innovations grants are helping students graduate from college in three years, rather than the traditional four, thereby reducing those students’ debt while also providing high-quality work readiness experience earned through credit-based internships.

Nixon also highlighted efforts to prepare Missouri students for a global economy, including its partnership with the Brazilian government to provide student exchange opportunities.

“Education is a priority of the Brazilian government, not only in domestic terms, but also in international terms,” said Mauro Vieira, Brazilian ambassador to the United States.

With a growing middle class, Brazil recognized the need to provide greater access to higher education to continue its economic growth, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Through its Scientific Mobility program, the country provides students with a free college education in a STEM field within Brazil, with one year of study at a U.S. university.

 “We are an economy of the world,” Nixon said, and states must prepare students to compete globally.