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University of Missouri system considers 3 percent tuition increase

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 9, 2011 - With no increase in appropriations from the state and a tuition increase of 3 percent, the University of Missouri system faces a budget gap of $64.3 million in the fiscal year that begins in July 2012. And given the state's fiscal troubles and the likelihood that the university will seek authority to raise tuition more than the cost of living, that shortfall is a moving target.

Those were the numbers presented Thursday to the university's Board of Curators meeting at its St. Louis campus. Nikki Krawitz, the system's vice president for finance and administration, said the university will have to wait until January, for the national Consumer Price Index for 2011 and Gov. Jay Nixon's budget proposals, before it can finalize its own fiscal plan. The curators are expected to vote in February.

But there seems to be little question about whether state appropriations will be more than last year's, which were 7.5 percent lower than the year before. Krawitz said the latest word from the governor's office is that the state is looking at a $780 million budget shortfall, so no funding increase is expected for the university system.

Because state appropriations make up 37 percent of the university's budget, while tuition accounts for 49 percent, a tuition increase is almost a certainty.

"As of the end of October," Krawitz said, "state revenues weren't looking very good at all. We have been talking with the state, and our appropriations will be flat.

"I think it's next year they are really concerned about now. When you are looking for general revenue, there aren't a whole lot of places they can go."

Under the proposal presented to the board Thursday, tuition at three of the system's campuses -- St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City -- would rise at the same rate as inflation nationally; at the Rolla campus, Missouri University of Science and Technology, the increase would be 2 percent higher than the rate of inflation, to help raise more money for students who need financial aid.

Under state law, if the university wants to raise tuition by more than the rate of inflation, it would have to seek a waiver from the state Department of Higher Education.

The proposed increases would put tuition and fees for resident undergraduate students at between $8,989 and $9,084, depending on which campus they attend. Krawitz said that figure remains below the average of $9,185 for tuition and fees for undergraduates at comparable universities.

"We don't have to increase our tuition dramatically unless our state support is cut," Krawitz said. "But just to keep our head above water, we have to do that. We're getting squeezed on all sides."

Also proposed is a new tuition rate for students at the Columbia campus who come from counties that border Missouri, in all eight states. The proposal sets the tuition rate at halfway between the resident and the nonresident rate; if the discount is approved, university officials estimate that an additional 85 students would enroll at Mizzou from those counties.

In a series of charts and graphs, Krawitz traced how support for public higher education in Missouri has declined in recent years:

  • In fiscal 1991, spending for higher education as a percentage of total general revenue for the state was more than 15 percent; it peaked the next year, then started a decline that brought it to just 10 percent in the current fiscal year -- about $790 million.
  • Compared with the eight states that surround Missouri, both state appropriations for higher education per capita and support per $1,000 in personal income ranked dead last, as well as being far below the national average in both cases.
  • Between 2001 and now, state support for higher education has dropped by 10.5 percent, during a period that the Consumer Price Index has risen 27.2 percent. While enrollment at the university has grown 30 percent in that time, state appropriations for each full-tme student equivalent have dropped 35 percent.

The effect of those numbers has been dramatic, Krawitz said, particularly in regard to the university payroll. Faculty salaries rank at or near the bottom of those at comparable universities, and increased class sizes could affect the quality of education. The university also has a backlog of $1 billion in renovation and repair. Krawitz said 70 percent of students at the university get some form of financial aid, which means that on average, they pay well below the sticker price for their education.
At the same time the curators were meeting at UMSL, the Coordinating Board for Higher Education was meeting in Jefferson City to consider a concept called "performance funding," under which public support for universities would be determined not by enrollment or other factors but by a complex formula that takes into account how well the school is performing. The board accepted the report, with details to be ironed out next year.

Krawitz said that under the plan, the University of Missouri would use consolidated data from all of its campuses to make its case and receive funding based on consolidated performance.

All four-year institutions would be judged by five measures:

  • Student progress, including how many freshmen return for their sophomore year and how many degree-seeking students complete 24 hours in their first year.
  • The rate at which students graduate after six years, including the total number of degrees awarded by each school.
  • How well students perform on national examinations.
  • Affordability, including the percent of the budget spent on a school's core mission and whether tuition plus state appropriations for each student increases at or below the rate of inflation.

The fifth criterion would be particular to each institution, with the University of Missouri using federally funded spending on research and development.
The new funding formula is expected to go into effect with the 2013-14 school year, so performance in the school year that begins next fall would be the last chance to influence the first year of funding.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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