After eliminating 85 positions last year, the University of Missouri-St. Louis is floating the idea of raising students' tuition to help manage its increasing fiscal strain.
A reduction in state assistance and a continuing decline in student enrollment are making it difficult for UMSL to close a deficit. The school was close to wiping away a $15 million shortfall in 2016, but cuts from Gov. Eric Greitens are pushing it further back into the red.
Greitens withheld $4.3 million from the current budget for UMSL. His proposed budget, presented Thursday, includes a nine percent cut to the UM System, which reduces the $60 million UMSL was receiving by about $5.6 million.
But that loss will be manageable, UMSL Chancellor Tom George said.
"We were expecting much worse,” he told his budget committee Friday.
Still, UMSL's deficit has not only caused cuts to staff, but also to programs and services, George said. And it has resulted in a lot of “opportunities lost” for investments in the campus and its students.
To deal with the latest cuts, George floated a five percent tuition increase starting in the 2018 fall semester, but he stressed it is only an idea at this point.
George said tuition increases would not be unique to UMSL, but likely will affect all public institutions in Missouri dealing with a drop in state aid.
"It’s tough, because it comes on the heels of a major budget readjustment we did,” George said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio. “We’re becoming very good at becoming leaner.”
Enrollment at UMSL has been down the past few years, making financial matters worse. Its student population has been about six percent below target the past two semesters, according to UMSL’s chief financial officer Rick Baniak.
"The demographics of enrollment are not on our side,” he said. It’s a “pretty tough picture” looking at the 2018 budget, Baniak said, but the smaller state allowance is “not going to cripple us.”
George said at this point, he is not considering more layoffs for staff.
If UMSL decides to raise tuition, it faces a tricky proposition. Increasing the cost of attending UMSL too much is likely to discourage more students from enrolling. And a hike beyond just an adjustment for inflation would require approval from the University of Missouri System’s Board of Curators and then a waiver from the state.
Another idea George will float to UM’s curators is expanding in-state rates to all of Illinois; they are currently offered only to the counties closest to St. Louis.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney