Missouri's four-year public universities are a bargain for some out-of-state students when compared with nearby states, even while state residents continue to pay the highest tuition among Big 12 states, according to an audit released Wednesday.
The report from Auditor Susan Montee also found that the state has no written policy for setting nonresident tuition. It recommended that the Missouri Department of Higher Education formulate a set of criteria that the institutions could use to set those tuition rates.
Last fiscal year, a nonresident paid an average tuition of $11,709 at the state's public four-year institutions, ranking eighth out of 11 states. The comparison states included all those with a Big 12 conference school, as well as Tennessee, Illinois and Arkansas.
But the audit also repeated findings released last year that showed the average amount of in-state tuition charged at all the Missouri institutions, $5,829, was the highest among Big 12 states, and trailed only Illinois in surrounding states.
The low tuition rates do not cover the cost of educating the nonresidents, and the lack of a written policy makes it difficult to determine if there is a valid reason why the state might want to have lower nonresident tuition rates, Montee said.
"If in fact there is justification for that, that's fine," she said. "But when there is no policy in place and the cost for those coming in is not covering the full cost of having the students there, it almost seems like the high resident rates are subsidizing nonresidents' education."
In 1983, Missouri set a policy of charging nonresident tuition that is twice the cost of in-state rates. But that policy has not been enforced because the education department does not believe it has the authority to do so, according to the audit.
Officials at five of the state's regional institutions and the University of Missouri told the auditor's office that they had no written policy for setting the nonresident tuition rates.
Southeast Missouri State University charges out-of-state students nearly twice as much in tuition as in-state students.
In-state undergraduates will pay $176.80 per credit hour in tuition compared to $323.30 a credit hour for out-of-state students this fall, according to the school's Web site. It will cost an in-state undergraduate student $5,304 to take 30 credit hours of classes during the coming school year. An out-of-state student would pay $9,699, the university reported on its Web site.
"The university policy has always been to set out-of-state fees considerably higher than in-state fees," said Art Wallhausen, associate to the president at Southeast.
But Wallhausen said school officials want to see the audit report before making any further comments.
Montee said at a time when there is great concern about tuition rates in Missouri, "we need to have policies in place to protect resident students from having to pay higher tuition to support nonresidents."
Southeast Missourian staff writer Mark Bliss contributed to this story.