By Andy Ostmeyer

The prognosis for a new health sciences building at Missouri Southern State University is looking up, now that an agreement has been reached between Gov. Matt Blunt and other state officials over the sale of student loan assets.

"It looks like it's one step closer," Missouri Southern President Julio Leon said Monday of the deal that was announced Saturday.

Under the proposal, assets of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, known as MOHELA, would be transferred through a third party - the Missouri Development Finance Board - to the state's four-year universities. The sale of the loans would generate about $350 million, most of which would be used for higher-education capital projects. The list of projects includes $19 million for the health sciences building at Missouri Southern.

Blunt announced a plan earlier this year to sell MOHELA's assets, but that plan failed in the General Assembly because of disagreement about proposed scholarship funding.

Afterward, Blunt discussed transferring the sale of MOHELA's assets directly to the universities.

Going through a third party would dispense with some concerns that were raised about whether the direct transfer of the proceeds from the sale was legal, said Jessica Robinson, spokeswoman for Blunt.

"I've always really preferred that an intermediary of some sort be used rather than some direct gifting from the MOHELA board," said state Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "With this intermediary step, I don't see a basis for any cause of action to challenge it."

But, Attorney General Jay Nixon and others renewed concerns Monday about the legality of the proposal, saying there is no statutory authority for the proposed plan.

Leon said the health sciences building initially was approved by the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education in 1998, but the state's share of the funding was not available for several years.

"Certainly, it looks very promising and exciting for us," Leon said.

The building would cost $24 million, with the difference to be financed with local funds, Leon said.

The agreement between Blunt and legislative leaders also calls for the General Assembly to provide for a $25 million increase in state funding for Missouri's scholarship programs, said Robinson.

Nodler said that should not be a problem since the state's revenue stream is healthy. Last year, he said, the Missouri economy grew at 9 percent, and this year, it could grow by 6.5 percent to 7 percent.

The proposal also includes $18 million for community colleges.

Cindy Brown, director of public information at Crowder College in Neosho, said the school is optimistic, but that it is too early to tell what the money would mean for each of the two-year schools.

Andy Ostmeyer is the assistant metro editor for The Joplin Globe.

Big winner

The University of Missouri in Columbia would be the big winner in the sale of loan assets for MOHELA. It would receive $85 million for a health sciences building and $5 million for other projects, or more than one-fourth of the $350 million in projected revenue.

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