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University of Missouri

Finding His Way

The Flagship Scholar Program made Joshua Dalton a Tiger.

Joshua Dalton

Joshua Dalton works in a Columbia welding shop to earn spending money and help pay his rent. For this first-generation college student, receiving a renewable, full-ride scholarship from MU’s Flagship Scholars program turned his dream of a university education into a reality. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Working hard is not a problem for Joshua Dalton, who started at a welding shop at age 16. He continued to work at a local welding shop while taking classes freshman year to earn spending money and a deposit on an apartment. He comes from a line of factory workers and is confident he could earn a living with his hands. But he wants something different.

The government says his parents earn plenty of money — too much for Dalton to qualify for grants or more than $2,500 a semester in loans. But there’s a reason Dalton grew up hearing his parents preach the dangers of credit cards and debt: They knew them firsthand. Debt payments ate up the “estimated family contribution” that the results from his Free Application for Federal Student Aid said should be going toward Dalton’s college expenses.

Knowing that finances would be a challenge, Dalton’s eighth-grade ears perked up when he heard his grandmother talk about MU’s Flagship Scholars program that had started in Clark County. It was the Kahoka, Mo., teen’s way out. A $15,000 scholarship, renewable for four years, would pay his tuition and fees and give an allowance for most of his room, board and books. He made earning that scholarship his goal right then.

The award gives preference to students who are first in their family to attend college and have a record of service and leadership. So Dalton got involved with the Future Farmers of America, becoming its vice president; he joined Future Business Leaders of America, becoming its president; and he was inducted into the National Honor Society.

Mizzou was the only school Dalton applied to. He couldn’t afford any other university. Getting accepted was easy, but without the Flagship Scholars award, he’d have had to defer enrollment and go to community college.

Receiving the scholarship changed his life.

I called [my mom] freaking out over the phone, so she thought I’d been in an accident,” Dalton remembers when he shared the news. “[The scholarship] was a big relief for both of us because they wanted to help me get [to college], they just didn’t know how they were going to do it.”

Once in school, however, his dreams of becoming a doctor quickly faded. General Chemistry II, a weed-out course for would-be pre-med students, proved a struggle.

My high school didn’t have much funding for science courses, so [the curriculum] was broad,” Dalton says. “I got here, and I just didn’t understand the majority of it. It took me forever to catch up.” It didn’t help that his entire high school would have filled only one-fifth of the 500-person lecture hall. “It was scary the first day I sat down.”

He says he wanted to go into medicine to help people, but he could just as easily do that teaching high school math, his best subject. So he switched majors and has had more academic success.

One year in, he has no regrets.

I like where I am,” the sophomore says. “I’m glad I made the decision to come here.”

Read about more first-generation students at Mizzou.