MU president proposes locked tuition rates

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Southeast officials are wary of the plan, which is still being explored.

University of Missouri students could get an education at a guaranteed price under a plan advanced by university president Elson Floyd.

Floyd said during a visit to Cape Girardeau Wednesday that he still is mulling over the idea and has made no decision on whether to recommend the plan to the four-campus system's board of curators.

Over the next two months, Floyd will hold forums throughout the state to gather public input on the tuition plan. If the plan moves forward, Floyd said a tuition lock could be in place by summer 2006.

On Wednesday, the university president addressed about 40 people at a noon luncheon of the Cape Girardeau Lions Club at the Elks Lodge. Several in the crowd questioned the financial feasibility of such a proposal. Floyd said that's still being explored.

But he said he'd like to stabilize tuition and fees which have steadily climbed in recent years.

Under the plan, freshmen would be locked into a single tuition rate for the remainder of their four or five years of undergraduate study. Each year, the university would set the rate for the next freshman class.

At the University of Missouri, tuition this fall will be up 3.5 percent over a year ago. The three previous years, beginning in 2002, tuition climbed by 14.8 percent, 19.8 percent and 7.5 percent, Floyd said.

Missouri residents who paid $2,733 in tuition a dozen years ago would have paid $6,276 in the most recent academic year.

Tax-funded colleges like the University of Missouri have an obligation to keep costs down, Floyd said. "We need a system of tuition and fees that is more predictable."

It's also important to keep college affordable, he said.

The University of Missouri has more than 62,000 students enrolled at its four campuses combined.

After the meeting Floyd said he isn't trying to tell other public colleges in Missouri how to structure their tuition charges.

Southeast Missouri State University officials are wary of the tuition plan. Provost Dr. Jane Stephens, who attended the meeting, said schools would have to overcharge freshmen to assure that the tuition collected each year will be enough to pay the expense of educating that class of undergraduate students.

Stephens said schools couldn't afford to set the tuition too low. "If you undercharge, you are dead," she said.

During the meeting, Floyd suggested that locking in tuition could make it easier for students and families to budget for college. It also could encourage students to graduate from college in four or five years rather than extend their undergraduate education, he said.

Parents like the idea, Floyd said. But student leaders at the University of Missouri oppose it, arguing it would put a disproportionate share of the cost on the freshman class.

Floyd acknowledges the proposal's possible drawbacks. Locking in tuition could pose a financial challenge for the university if costs rise suddenly, he said. In addition, he said, there's always uncertainty over how much funding the legislature will provide.

Public colleges, he said, have substantial personnel costs. Those amount to about 75 percent to 80 percent of the University of Missouri budget.

The state of Illinois implemented a system of guaranteed tuition rates two years ago. Floyd said it's too early to gauge the success.

Lawmakers and higher education leaders in Kansas and New York also are looking at ways to keep tuition in check, he said.

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