Bill calls for prior notice of tuition increases

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Public universities would be required to provide six months' notice of substantial tuition increases and specify in advance how they intend to spend the additional revenue under a bill the Senate Education Committee heard on Tuesday.

State Sen. Jason Crowell said the legislation, which he is sponsoring, is an attempt to provide greater public input in tuition decisions by state-funded higher education institutions and help slow the recent explosion in the cost of a college education.

"It is an effort to shine the light of knowledge on tuition increases and what those increases go for," said Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.

Tuition increases above the rate of inflation would have to be proposed six months before the start of a new academic year. Universities would be required to hold hearings regarding such proposals.

Schools would be allowed to increase tuition up to the rate of inflation without following the new rules.

Though the bill might make it harder for schools to boost tuition, Crowell said that is fine by him. Since the 2000-2001 school year, the average annual tuition for a Missouri resident to attend one of the state's 13 four-year institutions has jumped 52.3 percent.

"It's a tough issue, but I'm going to side with the students rather than the universities," Crowell said.

Much to Crowell's surprise, no one testified in opposition to the bill.

Crowell offered the proposal as an alternative to legislation he filed earlier that would freeze tuition for incoming freshman over the course of a four-year stay in college.

Southeast Missouri State University lobbyist Marvin Proffer said after the hearing that Crowell's measure needs refinement.

"We are not opposed, but there are some changes we want to make," Proffer said.

In particular, Proffer said advance notification of tuition increases should be set at three months. Under Crowell's six-month requirement, schools would have to set tuition in February -- three months before they know how much state money they will receive for the upcoming academic year.

Tying tuition to inflation would also be problematic, Proffer said, because it is not an accurate measure of growth in higher education costs.

Another provision of Crowell's bill aims to give the legislature more oversight of spending by the University of Missouri system, which some have long criticized for a lack of accountability.

The bill is SB 231.

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