Tuition and funding

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

In his remarks to the State Government Review Commission last April, University of Missouri president Elson Floyd pointed out that in fiscal year 2005 Missouri ranked 43rd among the states in funding for higher education, spending $6.34 per $1,000 of personal income compared to a national median of $6.89.

The gap between Missouri's shrinking ante for higher education and the national median had grown by nearly 50 percent since 2001.

Tuitions at state universities have increased substantially in recent years to keep pace with the decrease in state funding. Last month, the University of Missouri became the most expensive public university in the Big 12 Conference when the university's board of curators approved a 5 percent tuition increase. The toll is now $6,819 per semester, a jump of 16 percent since 2004.

Last week, the Missouri House of Representatives voted to limit single-year tuition increases at public four-year colleges to the price of inflation. Legislators say they want the state's institutions of higher learning to learn to operate more efficiently.

The tuition cap is part of a larger bill sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, that would limit appropriations of operating funds to universities to 2001 levels.

The bill also would grant $1,000 scholarships to individual students with a 2.5 GPA or above. The students could use them to attend public or private colleges.

Critics charge the bill is an attempt to transfer public funding to private institutions.

Some legislators would like economic growth to pay for increases in spending for higher education. But the National Center for Public Policy and Education projects that all 50 states face potential average budget deficits through 2013. Missouri's is projected at 7.9 percent. Much of this is due to the expected reduction in federal grants.

The concepts of freezing appropriations at a preordained level and capping tuition by legislative fiat make little sense.

Funding for higher education at public institutions in Missouri comes primarily from two sources: tuition and state appropriations. State funding has been limited in recent years, causing schools to cut expenses and raise tuition.

State funding is already under a de facto budgetary cap. To also cap tuition would hamstring colleges and universities.

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