Southeast regents reluctantly raise tuition

Saturday, June 28, 2003

The Southeast Missouri State University Board of Regents says it can't keep balancing the budget on the backs of students and warned Friday that academic and nonacademic programs may have to be cut if the state continues to slash funding for the school.

The comments came as the regents voted to increase student fees to help balance a $104.3 million budget for the new fiscal year, which begins Tuesday. The board increased tuition but by slightly less than had been recommended by the university administration.

Even with the increase, school officials said they'll have to cut $1.44 million to balance the $79.2 million operating budget. The university plans to delay hirings and cut equipment purchases, officials said.

In addition to the operating budget, the regents approved a $25 million spending plan for the school's auxiliary services, which includes campus housing. While part of the overall budget, those services rely on customer revenue to pay their expenses.

Before raising fees, the regents instructed school officials to review all programs, including numbers of students enrolled in each academic program, personnel issues such as the number of tenured versus nontenured faculty in different academic areas and the cost of those programs. Board president Don Dickerson of Cape Girardeau said the review would include athletics.

Board members asked university President Dr. Ken Dobbins to submit a report by September.

"We are going to have to take a long look at whether we have reached the end gate of increasing fees," Dickerson said.

The university, saddled with millions of dollars in state funding cuts over the past years, has had to greatly increase student fees, he said.

"It's the middle-class Americans who are getting killed in this," he said. Dickerson said rich students can absorb fee increases and poor students can obtain federal grants. But the middle-class students don't get such aid, he said.

Regent Sandra Moore of St. Louis said she was "dumbfounded" by the size of the tuition increase.

"This is probably the saddest meeting I have ever attended," she said. "I think we've hit that wall," she said of fee increases.

Moore said it's time the university started looking at possible program cuts.

Regent Doyle Privett of Kennett, Mo., voiced concern that continued tuition increases could drive away some students.

Still, the regents voted to increase tuition by $17 a credit hour for in-state undergraduates, $34 a credit for out-of-state undergraduates, $20.40 per credit hour for in-state graduate students and $40.80 per credit hour for out-of-state graduate students.

With the increases in tuition and general fees, the per credit hour cost for classes this fall will be $158.50 for in-state undergraduates, $278 for out-of-state undergraduates, $185.90 for Missouri graduate students and $329.80 for out-of-state graduate students.

The regents said the increase was needed to help pay for pay raises for faculty and staff. The pay raises will average 2 percent. Faculty and staff also will receive $500 across-the-board raises to help soften the blow of increased health insurance costs paid by employees.

Longtime full professors will be eligible for $4,000 promotion pay increases as part of the pay plan adopted by the board. School officials said 35 of 47 professors who applied for the new fifth step in promotion pay were awarded the funding for the new fiscal year.

The tuition increase ranged from $1 to $2.60 per credit hour less than what the administration had proposed.

Regents said they lowered the increase so that tuition and general fees for classes this fall would remain lower than Southwest Missouri State University at Springfield. The university already had lower fees than Central Missouri State, Northwest Missouri State, Truman State and the University of Missouri campuses at Columbia and St. Louis, school officials said.

Student regent Laura Hockensmith said students she talked with were divided over the value of having a second recreation center on campus. But she said the added recreation space should benefit students, particularly those living in residence halls on the south end of campus.

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