The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 22, 2012

Cuts to higher education announced by Nixon

JOPLIN, Mo. — Missouri’s public colleges and universities took another budget hit Friday from Gov. Jay Nixon, marking the third straight year that higher education institutions have seen their core state funding reduced.

Nixon announced nearly $9 million in cuts for colleges and universities while signing Missouri’s $24 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

It remained unclear Friday how much of a reduction Southwest Missouri colleges and universities will have to manage.

President Bruce Speck at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin said in an email that administrators will study Nixon’s budget to try to understand its impact.

“We need a few days to examine what the governor has signed,” he said. “The past several years have been economically challenging, and while we are hopeful for the best, we simply need a little time to absorb these numbers and determine what they mean for us.”

Sherry Buchanan, chairwoman of the MSSU Board of Governors, said she could not comment because she had not “heard any particulars” beyond the fact that Nixon had cut the higher education budget.

“I think we should know more next week,” she said when reached by telephone Friday afternoon.

Rod Anderson, chairman of the board’s budget committee, also said he had no details Friday on the impact to Missouri Southern.

“By next week, we’ll have a little more information about how that might affect us,” he said when reached by telephone. “We are going to look at it in a very timely manner to see what we can do.”

The board last month approved a $72.4 million balanced budget based on an expected $1.7 million reduction in state funding. That amount had initially been cut from Missouri Southern in a proposal by Nixon.

Legislators later restored that amount and added $300,000 more for the university. Administrators had been hopeful that Nixon would keep that amount — a difference of about $2 million for Missouri Southern — in the budget.

The cut to higher education amounts to 1 percent less than the roughly $850 million colleges and universities expected under the budget. But when combined with previous cuts, institutions will get 12.4 percent less — or about $120 million — than in the 2009-2010 school year.

They could have lost nearly twice that much. When Nixon presented a budget plan in January, he recommended a $106 million cut to higher education institutions for the 2013 fiscal year. He later softened that by tapping a portion of Missouri’s expected revenue from a national settlement with mortgage lenders. Lawmakers then wiped out the rest of Nixon’s proposed higher education cut by making reductions to other programs and shifting money around in the budget.

“Frankly, a 1 percent reduction, while not what we would have chosen, is positive news” compared with Nixon’s original proposal, said Brian Long, director of the Council on Public Higher Education in Missouri.

But Long added: “Higher education has never been generously funded in the state of Missouri, in my opinion, and consecutive years of budget reductions — if this continues — is really not sustainable.”

House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey said the cut shows “this governor is absolutely hostile to higher education.”

Nixon countered: “I fully support higher education in Missouri,” citing increased funding for college job-training efforts.

Pay raises?

Also unclear Friday was what Gov. Jay Nixon’s cuts would mean for the possibility of salary increases for faculty and staff at Missouri Southern State University. Members of the Board of Governors have said that pay raises, which have not been given in at least four years, are their top priority.

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