David Russell

Bruce Speck (left), president of Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, listens Wednesday as David Russell talks about the need for caution by college and university administrators in the contemplation of increases in tuition rates. Russell is the interim commissioner of the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

Missouri’s interim higher education commissioner on Wednesday counseled university leaders to use caution when setting next year’s tuition rates and warned that a repeal of state legislation regulating those rates would stand scant chance in the Legislature.

With the state facing a projected shortfall next fiscal year and deeper budget cuts to higher education expected, officials from Missouri Southern State University have signaled that they likely would seek a waiver to go beyond regulations that tie tuition rates to the Consumer Price Index. Higher education has been largely spared from budget cuts the past two years in exchange for agreeing to hold tuition flat.

In a visit to Missouri Southern on Wednesday, Commissioner David Russell said leaders of Missouri’s universities and colleges have to be “very careful” about trying to close “perceived lost ground” in one year when it comes to setting tuition. Russell publicly fielded submitted questions during a meeting largely attended by Southern administrators and administrative staff.

State legislation sponsored by Sen. Gary Nodler limits how much universities can increase their in-state tuition, based on changes in the Consumer Price Index, unless they either pay a penalty or obtain a waiver from the state.

President Bruce Speck said Southern would seek a waiver to go beyond that ceiling in the face of shrinking state support, although specifics are still to come.

One question posed to Russell was whether the enabling legislation — Senate Bill 389 — could be repealed. The legislation also launched the Lewis and Clark Discovery initiative and created the Access Missouri program, among other things.

“I don’t see a prayer of a chance” that the Legislature would repeal the measure, Russell said.

For more on this story, pick up a copy of Thursday’s Joplin Globe or register for our E-Edition at joplinglobe.com.

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