Governor, community college reach agreement on tuition freeze

Friday, November 20, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Community colleges have joined Missouri's four-year colleges and universities in agreeing to freeze tuition next school year if state officials promise to nick and not slash their budgets.

Gov. Jay Nixon said Friday that community colleges have promised to not raise tuition for in-state students if their budget cuts are limited to 5.2 percent. The state's four-year colleges agreed earlier this week to a 5.2 percent budget cut without a tuition increase for in-state undergraduates.

In all, the agreements would allow about $50 million to be cut from higher education without Missouri students paying more for tuition.

The federal stimulus package limits how much states that receive education money can cut higher education budgets without federal permission. Nixon said Friday he believes Missouri's higher education budget could have been cut by as much as $75 million without a waiver.

The Democratic governor said the agreement with colleges and universities sets Missouri apart from states that are raising tuition. He pointed specifically to California, which has approved a 32 percent fee increase for students attending that state's top public schools.

"We're putting our students first. It's not only the right thing to do for those students and families who are struggling, it's also the smart thing to do to create a skilled work force," Nixon said.

The agreement would affect how much money colleges and universities get starting next July and how much students pay in the school year that starts next fall. The schools can set their tuition rates, but the Legislature must approve the state budget.

Nixon's proposal has drawn criticism from some lawmakers.

Sen. Scott Rupp called the higher education deal a "dog and pony show" earlier this week and warned it could force deeper cuts elsewhere in the budget.

"I am disappointed that the governor has negotiated an agreement prematurely that has the potential to tie the hands of the Legislature and keep them from doing what is in the best interest of taxpayers," said Rupp, R-Wentzville.

Last year, Nixon and universities agreed to no budget cuts or tuition increases.

Until this school year, tuition at Missouri's universities had been increasing by an average of 7.5 percent per year for a decade.

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