The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

January 15, 2014

Reviews mixed for governor’s higher education funding proposal

To Taylor Shanks, a recent proposal to boost state funding for higher education institutions sounds like a good investment.

“Education costs have gone up a lot in the past few years,” the Missouri Southern State University junior said. “Education is important. If we don’t stay competitive on a local or national scale, we can’t keep up in the global marketplace.”

The proposal came last month from Gov. Jay Nixon, who said his budget recommendations for next fiscal year will include an additional $36.7 million for Missouri’s public colleges and universities. He also urged four-year schools to freeze tuition for Missouri undergraduates for the 2014-15 academic year.

“Nothing will have a greater impact on the future of our economy, and our state, than the commitment we make now to education,” Nixon said in a statement.

Missouri’s current state operating budget that took effect in July provides public colleges and universities an additional $25 million, to be distributed based upon how the schools perform in areas such as student retention and graduation rates. The governor’s proposed 5 percent increase for next fiscal year also would be distributed based on performance.

The proposal has drawn mixed reaction from local higher education officials and legislators, although students seem to favor it.

Ash Shannon, an MSSU senior from Carthage, said she thinks additional funding for the university would be great.

“The main reason I chose to attend Missouri Southern was the affordable tuition,” she said. “To get more funding would be phenomenal.”

Rob Yust, vice president for business affairs at Missouri Southern, said it’s unclear how much the university could receive under the proposal because the increase would be performance-based. The current fiscal year’s budget, adopted by the university’s governing board last spring, projected revenues of about $22.5 million in state aid, and $23 million in net tuition and fees.

“We have met four of the five (performance) measures for the next fiscal year, but I don’t know what dollar amount we are talking about,” Yust said.

Undergraduates at MSSU currently pay $173.20 per credit hour; a full-time student taking 12 hours per semester will pay $4,156.80 this year in tuition. The rate is about 2.2 percent higher than last year’s tuition costs.

Discussions about next year’s tuition rates could begin as early as next month between the university’s finance department and the Board of Governors, which has final authority on setting those rates, Yust said.

For Crowder College, a 5 percent funding increase would translate into about $200,000, said Jim Cummins, vice president of finance.

The college this year expects to receive about $4.4 million in state aid, which will make up about 9 percent of its base revenue, Cummins said. In-district students pay $78 per credit hour; out-of-district students pay $107 per credit hour. Students taking 12 credit hours per semester will pay $1,872 and $2,568 in tuition this year, respectively. Those rates were a slight increase over last year’s rates.

But a recent conference call among leaders of state community colleges, including those from Crowder, revealed some hesitation about the overall proposal, Cummins said.

“It was the feeling of most of the presidents across the state that community college tuition is so low already, and state funding is such a small portion of our overall budget, that we have to be careful about saying we are going to freeze tuition for a given percentage increase in state funding,” he said. “It’s not that we’re not appreciative of potentially 5 percent more money; it just kind of ties our hands when our tuition is so much lower than four-year (institutions’).”

Rep. Mike Kelley, R-Lamar, said the House Education Appropriations Committee on which he serves has not yet received its budget proposals. He said that while he’d like to fund every proposal, he thinks the Democratic governor is promising things, such as more funding for higher education, with money that might not be there, based on revenue estimates for the upcoming fiscal year.

“We have not found that pot of gold,” he said.

The idea of an undergraduate tuition freeze is not new in Missouri. Most recently, public colleges and universities struck a deal with Nixon to hold undergraduate tuition flat for Missouri residents in 2010-11 in exchange for receiving no more than about $50 million in cuts to their core state funding. Institutions also had agreed to keep tuition flat the previous school year.

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