UM system considering fixed tuition rate plan

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- While University of Missouri system president Elson Floyd is floating a proposal to ensure that incoming freshmen experience no tuition increases while pursuing undergraduate degrees, Southeast Missouri State University is unlikely to pursue a similar tuition structure.

To provide cost certainty for students at the four UM campuses, which have been hit with huge tuition increases in recent years, Floyd's proposal would guarantee students a fixed tuition rate over the four or five years that it normally takes to earn a bachelor's degree.

UM spokesman Joe Moore said Floyd wants to thoroughly study the concept in the coming months and gather public input before making a firm decision on whether to pursue it.

Moore said Floyd hopes to make a recommendation to the UM Board of Curators by the end of the year. If the board agrees to the plan, the intent is to implement it beginning with the summer 2006 semester.

Gov. Matt Blunt praised Floyd for making an effort to control costs for Missouri students.

"His proposal will provide parents and students with a road map to plan savings and estimate costs," Blunt said.

Viewpoint from Southeast

Although locking in tuition is bound to be politically popular, Southeast president Ken Dobbins said it could have devastating unintended consequences for schools that try it.

"It sounds like a great idea but, quite frankly, financially it could be a disaster," Dobbins said.

The problem, Dobbins said, is that no one can predict with reasonable certainty what the rate of inflation and the level of state funding for higher education will be over a four-year period. If universities suffer deep reductions in state appropriations, as has occurred in recent years, or experience sudden spikes in expenses, Dobbins said they would have no choice but to hit the next freshman class with a massive tuition increase. It is better, Dobbins said, to spread tuition increases among the entire student body.

Southeast experimented with a similar fee structure regarding residence hall costs in the late 1980s and nearly bankrupted the system, Dobbins said.

Earlier this year state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, filed legislation to lock in tuition not just for the UM system but all 13 of Missouri's public universities, including Southeast. The bill languished in the legislature.

Crowell said he is encouraged by Floyd's stance and will push the idea again next year as part of a larger effort to overhaul higher education.

"This is going to be my major issue in the next legislative session," Crowell said.

To address the concerns raised by Dobbins and others, Crowell says universities should be allowed to increase tuition for upperclassmen in defined emergency situations when there are no other realistic financial alternatives.

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