Tuition plan gains little support

Sunday, October 16, 2005

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A proposal to guarantee a four- or five-year tuition rate for freshmen entering the University of Missouri is failing to gain support from faculty and students across the four-campus system.

"Yes, the plus is its predictability," said John Andersen, a junior at the University of Missouri-Columbia who leads the systemwide Intercampus Student Council. "But the ultimate goal, even more than predictability, is affordability, and we don't know yet what the affordability of this model would be."

University president Elson Floyd has spent the last three months getting input on the proposal from school officials and students at campuses in Columbia, Kansas City, St. Louis and Rolla.

Floyd has not proposed the plan to the Board of Curators, and will review the material from his meetings before deciding whether to do so.

Andersen, whose organization represents about 63,000 students, is one of several people who wondered whether a locked tuition rate could lead to disproportionate burdens on some freshman classes.

"It is really a matter of arithmetic," said Stephen Lehmkuhle, the interim chancellor at Missouri-Kansas City. "If state appropriations go down, then you have to make up for that drop, leveraged all against one freshman class. Currently, when appropriations drop, tuition goes up, but it is spread across all students."

If fuel costs continue to rise, for example, the state will either have to increase aid to the university system to make up for it -- either through raising taxes or making cuts elsewhere -- or the schools will have to compensate by raising tuition on an incoming freshman class or by cutting their own programs.

Recent tuition increases have exceeded the inflation rate, as a result of cuts in state funding. And over the past two years, students have paid more into the system than the state does.

Jakob Waterborg, chairman of the faculty senate at the Missouri-Kansas City, said the proposal would only work "if we could guarantee the price of gas would not go up, and that the state legislature every year would give us enough money for raises that keep up with inflation."

And for a commuter school such as Missouri-Kansas City, Lemkuhle said, a locked tuition rate that expires after five years would not be attractive to students stretching out their college educations over a longer span.

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