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Presidents of two biggest universities in Missouri unite

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Presidents Floyd (L) and Nietzel

By AP/KWMU

Springfield, Mo. – The presidents of the University of Missouri President and Missouri State University are joining in an effort to urge for continued state support for public higher education.

Elson Floyd and Michael Nietzel say past rivalries between Missouri's two largest universities are over. Instead, their message is that public universities are a good investment for Missouri tax dollars.

Nietzel and Floyd also are scheduled to sign an agreement Monday to offer two engineering programs from the UM-Rolla on the campus of Missouri State.

Universities got a 2% budget increase this year, following several years of cuts or unchanged funding. Floyd says the increases have to continue.

The show of institutional unity would have been unthinkable a few years ago, especially given the University of Missouri's years-long effort to keep MSU from getting its current name. It was known as Southwest Missouri State.

University of Missouri backers long feared the larger and older school would lose funds and prestige, but the Legislature finally approved it in early 2005. "That is all behind us," said Floyd, who in the end dropped objections to the name change.

"There is a symbolism obviously to the fact that the University of Missouri and Missouri State University are here together, and I hope that's not lost on anybody," Nietzel told a crowded luncheon event hosted by the Rotary Club.

"I hope Springfield as well as the rest of Missouri appreciates the fact that we believe we'll accomplish a lot more as partners than we will whenever we spat," he said.

The presentation was the third in a series Floyd is making around the state with the presidents of Missouri's public universities. He says the united front makes it easier to show the public and the General Assembly that public universities are focused on being efficient with tax dollars, remaining affordable and providing a good return on investment.

Both presidents said state funding for higher education has slipped. Nietzel said it was down by nearly one-third in the past 25 years. Floyd said state funds provided 56% of his four-campus university system's operating budget in 2000 but just 39% this year, with most of the rest made up by tuition and fees.

"While we applaud the 2% increase that we received recently, and we will continue to exercise appropriate stewardship of those dollars, we still have a tremendous distance to go in our state," Floyd said.

Among 10 Midwestern states, Nietzel said, Missouri ranked last in per capita state spending on public higher education. But higher education is a benefit, both for individuals and the state, Nietzel said.

Individuals with college degrees earn more. The state realizes benefits ranging from higher taxes based on higher incomes to higher rates of voting to lower rates of incarceration, he said.

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