Cuts to state's higher education are bad for region

A huge Libertarian experiment will play out this fall in Cape Girardeau. (Libertarian -- a political system emphasizing limited government.)

The experiment: What happens to a community after 20 years of budget cuts to its hometown university?

No one knows exactly how the latest round of state budget cuts will impact Southeast Missouri State University. However, the facts are coming to light and clearly fiscal year 2021 was going to be bad for SEMO before COVID-19. The pandemic will severely intensify the intentional negative effects of a fiscal policy designed and implemented by our state legislature.

Make no mistake, SEMO is a gem in our region's economic crown, but that status is now greatly threatened and our local delegation to the General Assembly is entirely complicit.

Evidently, there are certain people right here in our community who believe the university is merely a sewer down which tax dollars are drained with no return on investment. As a result of this thinking, based on total population Missouri ranks 46th in the nation in its financial commitment to higher education per student and is the lowest compared to all neighboring states. Worse, it appears our current leadership aspires to be dead last.

SEMO is an economic driver: The university is a major employer and its existence as a diverse university brings thousands of students to town. Students spend money on goods and services from retailers of all kinds. They pay rent and their landlords pay mortgages with rent money, part of which goes to pay property taxes. Parents and alumni come here to visit and spend more money. Less students equals less economic activity which equals less money collected in sales and property taxes, and so the dominoes fall punching holes in local, county and regional budgets which then must be cut or somehow supplemented.

Previous funding cuts have already decimated programs at SEMO. Very simply put, many programs will not be offered this fall. The university's offerings will become weaker and less diverse and therefore far less attractive to prospective students. Consider the strong possibility of a university enrollment less than one-half the size of 2020 (and shrinking)!

There is very little SEMO's leadership can do to fight against the governor and the General Assembly whose message is clear: "If you want a college degree then go to SIU or Murray State and spend your money there to drive their economies."

This mentality is killing our hometown university and must be stopped.

Andy Leighton, Cape Girardeau

Candidate for State Representative, House District 147

Paid for by Leighton For MO, Treasurer Roy Leighton, PO Box 763, Cape Girardeau, MO 63702