Three Rivers to freeze tuition for second year

Monday, November 23, 2009 ~ Updated 11:22 AM

Three Rivers Community College will freeze its tuition rates and academic fees for the second year in a row, if Gov. Jay Nixon's plan for higher education is approved.

Last year, the state kept its higher education appropriations flat. This year the dozen two-year institutions in Missouri stand to lose $7.7 million.

The "slight cut" in funding compares to "dramatic" setbacks for other state entities and programs, Nixon said during a teleconference Friday.

"I'm confident they will still be able to deliver the kind of education community colleges are famous for," he said.

State funds for Three Rivers will decrease by more than $250,000 out of $4.56 million that was anticipated, said Dr. Devin Stephenson, the community college president.

"We unanimously support the governor, as I do believe that it is important that we keep higher education affordable, especially in Southeast Missouri, one of the poorest regions in the state," Stephenson said. "But let me say, this is extremely challenging when our enrollment is bursting at the seams, and we're still trying to provide the same services."

Three Rivers experienced a 12.8 percent increase in enrollment and a 17.3 percent increase in credit hours during the current fall semester over last year, Stephenson said. The community college is already tracking more than a 5 percent increase from this year for the coming spring semester.

"When you have an increase in head count, it's an excellent thing, but with that comes the need for more human resources, computer capacity, management information system technology, safety and security, parking and so on," Stephenson said. "It has a ripple effect, and you have to do more with less, but we are committed to the task, and we will succeed."

Stephenson explained that his executive cabinet plans to zero-out the $18 million operational budget to eliminate wasteful spending in each department. Additionally, he said, Three Rivers was recently awarded $519,000 through House Bill 22 to be used for campus improvements by June 30, which will help.

Earlier in the week officials at Missouri's four-year institutions agreed to hold the line as well. The governor's proposal is pending approval from the legislature in January.

"We had already been made aware by the governor's office before it became public and we, the body, will support the tuition freeze," said State Rep. Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff, who is the chair of the House Committee for Higher Education. "If the revenues aren't there, we are prepared to whittle a little off the core appropriations for elementary, secondary and higher education, but 5 percent is about as high as we'll go."

Future Senate Appropriations chairman Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said he will not support or oppose Nixon's plan until he knows how the overall budget will look.

"While I appreciate the governor's end goal, I believe his announcement is premature," he said after the governor announced the freeze for four-year universities on Tuesday. "We have yet to determine the coming year's budget consensus revenue. That means we do not yet know how much money will even be in the state's bank account to fund the critical functions of state government."

Mayer will replace state Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, who is resigning the chairmanship Nov. 30 because of his campaign for Congress.

The cost per credit at Three Rivers will continue to be $67 for in-district, $107 for out-of-district and $134 for out-of-state students living beyond a 90-mile radius. There is also a common fee of $13.50 per credit hour.

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