A Missouri House committee is considering a proposal to help alleviate the state’s massive student loan debt by establishing a statewide work-study program.
The idea of the program was first brought up during the last meeting in October by Erik Bergrud, associate vice president of external relations at Park University. The university’s program allows students to work for 20 hours a week on campus in exchange for free tuition, Bergrud said in his testimony last month.
The Subcommittee on Student Debt Relief had its fourth public meeting Monday morning to give a briefing on its plan toward the upcoming legislative session and takeaways from previous testimony. No university representatives attended to testify.
Committee Chairman Rep. Allen Andrews, R-Grant City, said a work-study program would not only be beneficial to students but also to employers who hire them through the program.
“It would give the employer the ability to be able to gain an employee at a reduced cost,” Andrews said. “So that’s an incentive for an employer to be able to take a potential employee on a test drive to see if it’s a right fit.”
Although the detail of the plan is yet to be worked out, the committee hopes to incorporate the private sector into the program, which could differentiate the state’s work-study jobs from the federal ones. The Federal Work-Study requires that students must work in the public interest, such as at a private nonprofit or public agency.
“I like the whole concept behind this work-study program that it incentivizes, blends in, and pulls in the private sector. Any time that you can pull the private sector into government, the better, because the government naturally is very inefficient,” Andrews said.
Committee members also discussed how the GOP tax bill would affect the program. Bill Gamble, executive director of Independent Colleges and Universities of Missouri, said he worried the plan would eliminate tax benefits granted to employers who run education assistance programs, which reimburse their employees for education expenses, including tuition.
“You will have time before January to see if it does go down the path where there will be tax implications for the work-study,” Gamble said. “That’s going to be a pretty big hit for those who want to go back to further their education. I believe it probably has implications for re-training.”
Andrews said he opposed giving such tax benefits because he thinks it could indicate that the government “picks the winners and losers.”
“I’m more ‘let the people decide’ or ‘let the private sector decide’ on where to apply that money,” Andrews said.
The committee hopes to have more testimony from the state’s higher education sector in the next hearing scheduled for early December.