After several years of watching Missouri's higher education budget slashed, local college and university officials are optimistic that the state's fiscal year 2020 budget, which awaits the governor's signature, promises better revenue streams ahead.
"I think it holds good things for all of us," said Alan Marble, president of Missouri Southern State University. "I think it's a more optimistic budget for education in general ... and the state of Missouri."
Missouri lawmakers last week gave final approval to a $30 billion state spending plan with a slight increase for higher education and more money for K-12 public schools. The budget package includes an additional $61 million in core K-12 public school funding, and colleges and universities are set to get at least $1 million more compared with this year.
If the budget bill is signed as presented, Missouri Southern is set to get a $1 million increase in its core funding, for a total of approximately $24.2 million. It also would get a one-time allocation of $1.8 million "for the expansion of academic programs and scholarships that assist in meeting the region's specific workforce needs in the areas of STEM and health sciences," according to the bill.
Marble said that allocation would go toward the university's "high-demand" pre-medical and pre-dental programs as well as dental hygiene and nursing.
Demand for those areas of study has increased at Missouri Southern partly because of renovated math and science facilities and partly because of the opening two years ago of a campus of the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Joplin, Marble said. Missouri Southern's new Gipson Center for Healthcare Leadership, housed in the Julio S. Leon Health Sciences Building, was developed to support and enhance health science degree programs.
"We're becoming a health education hub," Marble said.
Crowder College also is poised to receive a one-time allowance of $332,500 to expand its nursing program. If approved by the governor, the money will be put toward a licensed practical nursing program at the college's Nevada campus, an expansion of the nursing program at the McDonald County campus and the purchase of equipment for the Cassville campus, President Glenn Coltharp said.
"This is truly a big shot in the arm to Southwest Missouri, no pun intended," he said. "Health care (fields) in the whole state are in high need right now. The numbers are not there in the workforce, but the people trying to get in to health care, those numbers are there."
Coltharp said the expansions are needed because the college each year has more applications to its nursing programs than there are seats available. At the McDonald County campus in particular, the number of nursing applications sometimes is double the number of available seats, he said.
"In my mind, I have compared it to owning a restaurant and having people lined up to get in to eat, but we had to shut the doors at a certain time because we ran out of food," he said. "We have that same demand with our nursing program. We just didn't have the funds to meet the faculty, staff or equipment needs, so this (one-time allowance) will give us a chance to do that."
After the exhaustion of the $332,500, the expanded programs are expected to be financially self-sustaining through student tuition, Coltharp said. The college has already set its tuition rate for next year at $92 per credit hour for in-district students, $148 per credit hour for out-of-district students and $202 per credit hour for international students, an overall increase of $2 to $8 per credit hour.
College officials are hopeful that Gov. Mike Parson will sign the budget as is, without any restrictions or withholdings, because they believe their nursing program plans align with his initiatives to boost workforce development in the state. Parson's Fast Track program would provide full-tuition scholarships in high-demand fields such as manufacturing, computer science and health care for up to four semesters to people ages 25 or older who earn less than $40,000 annually for individuals or $80,000 for married couples.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.