A college education wouldn't have been possible for Steven Steele if Missouri State University-West Plains had not been nearby. The 2012 graduate of Dora High School needed an affordable higher education option that was close to home. Thanks to the state's A+ Program and some additional financial aid options, Steven found just what he needed here.
Like many in this region of Missouri, which is within the 17th poorest congressional district in the nation, the A+ Program has been a godsend when it comes to being able to pay for college. Those who complete the academic, attendance and tutoring requirements at participating high schools can receive funds to attend participating public community colleges or vocational/technical schools, or certain private two-year vocational/technical schools. Both Dora High School and Missouri State-West Plains are eligible institutions under the program.
"The A+ Program was the only way I was able to come to college," he said. "With that and some scholarships and work study, I will be able to graduate in May without any debts at all."
And, like many residents in this region, Steven wanted to stay as close to home as possible to obtain his college degree. Steven is still an integral part of the operations at his family's farm, and he is very active in his church, First Missionary Baptist Church in Pottersville, where he plays the piano for services. He also loves the outdoors and is an avid bow hunter. Attending Missouri State-West Plains allowed him to continue to work for his family, serve his church community and take advantage of the region's bountiful wildlife.
Steven began taking classes at Missouri State-West Plains in the fall of 2012. As a first generation college student, he was eligible for the TRiO Student Support Services program, a federally-funded program that provides personalized academic and other support services to qualified students to help them transition to college work, complete their degree and transfer into a baccalaureate program.
"It's really helped me keep on track with my classes," Steven said. He checks in each month with the program's academic advisors, who make sure he continues his progress toward his Associate of Arts in General Studies degree. "It's kind of hard (to stay on track) when you're working on campus and on our farm," he explained. "My time is very stretched."
Steven works on campus as a math tutor in the Grizzly Tutoring Lab to help cover the costs of going to college. Admittedly good at math, he took the University's dual-credit College Algebra class while in high school. When TRiO Academic Specialist Mary Kellum saw that he had successfully completed the class, she encouraged him to contact Math Specialist Thora Broyles.
"Tutoring was a job on campus that was open, and I had already qualified for work study, so I decided to go for it," he explained. "I really love it! The people in the tutoring lab make it fun. They make the lab a warm, welcoming environment for employees and students alike."
Once he completes his degree in May, Steven plans to remain at Missouri State-West Plains and take classes through the Missouri State Outreach program. Ultimately, he said, he would like to become a conservation agent. "Home is home, and I want to stay home, if possible," he explained.
Steven has enjoyed his collegiate experience at Missouri State-West Plains, and said he would encourage others to consider the campus, as well. "Missouri State-West Plains is one of the best places around, especially if you want to stay close to home."