SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A downturn in the state's economy has forced Southwest Missouri State University to propose a rare midyear increase in tuition.
The university's Board of Governors will be asked to increase fees 5.4 percent for undergraduates and 6.3 percent for graduate students for the spring semester when it meets Dec. 14.
If approved, undergraduates would pay $117 a credit-hour, an increase of $6. That means students taking 15 credit-hours in the spring would pay $90 more -- bringing total tuition to about $1,755.
Some scholarship programs would automatically cover the increase, said Tom Allen, vice president of finance at the university in Springfield.
Under the proposal, graduate students would pay $135 a credit-hour, up $8. The fee for non-Missouri undergraduate students would increase $12 to $234 a credit-hour; graduate students would be charged $16 more a credit-hour, or $270.
Funds held back
The university is proposing the increase to makeup for a $4 million holdback mandated in July by Gov. Bob Holden in the wake of a projected budget shortfall.
Allen warned Thursday that if the state's economic forecast remains bleak, the university likely would have to increase tuition from 5 percent to 15 percent for the fall semester.
It planned, however, to wait until February to set those fees to give administrators and Holden an opportunity to better assess the situation.
State budget director Brian Long, however, has already estimated a $150 million to $200 million shortfall for the fiscal year that ends in June.
"You just don't know," Allen said. "One of the reasons we're putting off the decision is to see what happens with the economy. Governor Holden will make his State of the State address in January, and we should have a better idea then."
Meanwhile, students were wondering how they would pay for the proposed increase that could take effect in six weeks when the spring semester begins.
"I don't know yet, but I may have to take out more student loans to cover it," said Lindsey Manis, a sophomore from Springfield who is majoring in English education.
Manis already works part-time and plans to take 16 credit-hours next semester. Her parents also pay for another child to attend Southwest Missouri State and one to attend Drury University.
"It will hurt some students who have already planned out their finances," she predicted.
Jenny Messerli, a junior from Springfield majoring in elementary education, also worried about the extra $96 that may be needed to cover the 16 credit-hours she plans to take next semester.
"I'm lucky because I don't pay for my education, my mom does," Messerli said. "But she's getting ready to have a baby, so it could be an added burden."
Allen said it was unusual for the university to raise tuition in the middle of the year, but he said it did occur back in the mid-1980s.
"While this notification of a fee increase provides only six weeks notice to students for the spring semester, this lead time seems preferable to instituting a surcharge in the middle of the spring semester," he said.