Students at Missouri Southern State University will see a 2.37% increase in their tuition when they return to campus in the fall.

The new rate for in-state, undergraduate tuition — which includes all mandatory student fees — will be $248.73 per credit hour, a $5.77 increase per credit hour from the current rate of $242.96. The rate was approved Thursday by the university's Board of Governors and is the maximum increase allowed under state law.

Out-of-state, undergraduate tuition will increase by $11.54 per credit hour to $497.46 per credit hour. Tuition for distance learning will increase $4 per credit hour to $299.88 per credit hour.

Tuition for graduate students will remain at $350 per credit hour, and the rate for dual-credit classes will remain at $50 per credit hour.

University officials are planning to reopen the campus on May 11, although summer classes will continue to be held online. But they're hopeful that will change in August, when the fall term begins.

"We intend to open face-to-face classes in the fall and (are) making every effort to be on campus with a full array of campus activities," President Alan Marble said. "We have backup plans if needed, but we fully plan to be open in the fall."

In other business Thursday, the board's budget/audit committee reviewed a first draft of the budget for fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1. The budget as presented reflects $76 million in total revenues and $82.5 million in expenditures.

Anticipated revenues include $21.2 million in state appropriations, which is nearly $4 million less than the current fiscal year, said Rob Yust, vice president for business affairs. The Missouri House earlier this week, in its version of the state budget, slashed state aid to public colleges and universities by 10% in anticipation of plunging revenues because of the coronavirus.

"It's going to be a big hit for next year's budget," Yust said.

Administrators and board members noted it's possible that amount could change further by the time state lawmakers pass their final budget for Missouri later this month and that additional withholdings could be made by Gov. Mike Parson throughout the fiscal year.

"We know that's going to be a moving target this year," said Carlos Haley, chairman of the board's budget/audit committee. "We're going to continue to try and manage that process and its impact on the university moving forward."

'Uncharted waters'

When asked what could be done to reduce the projected $6.5 million gap between revenues and expenditures next year, Yust noted that other universities, including the University of Missouri, are discussing layoffs, furloughs and other types of reorganizations as a possibility.

"That's probably going to get you the biggest bang for your buck, but (it's) not the most popular bang," he said.

The budget banks on the tuition increase and strong enrollment next year to help boost revenue. But Jeff Gibson, the budget director, said the number of credit hours in which students have already enrolled for the upcoming fall semester so far lags behind fall credit hours in which students had enrolled at this time last year.

"We've got a little ground to cover, and there's nothing normal about what's going on," he said, referring to the effects of the coronavirus, "so that makes me a little anxious."

Marble said the university historically has seen strong enrollment during times of high unemployment, as people opt to go back to school to strengthen their ability to find a job. But despite data that shows more than 30 million Americans are now out of a job because of the coronavirus, administrators don't yet know if that will translate into higher enrollment this fall, he said.

"These are uncharted waters," he said. "You just can't tell."

The draft budget excludes any federal and state stimulus dollars that MSSU might receive. The university already has been approved for $4.8 million in federal stimulus funds. Half is designated for MSSU, and the other half will be distributed among students. Staff are working on methods for those distributions.

The budget for fiscal year 2021 will be reviewed again by the board for approval at its June meeting.

Emily Younker is the managing editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.

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