Gov. Eric Greitens’ proposed 10 percent cut to Missouri’s higher education budget for the 2019 fiscal year has university administrators concerned for the future of their schools, and Missouri Southern President Dr. Alan Marble is no exception. Marble has made several trips to Jefferson City to testify in front of the General Assembly on the cuts Southern has been forced to make in order to combat the budget shortcomings. In addition, he has spoken in favor of a bill that would make it possible for the University to raise tuition past the Consumer Price Index cap in order to restore some financial stability.
According to Marble, the University stands to lose over $2 million in funding if Greitens’ proposed budget passes. In addition, Greitens is recommending a withholding of another 10 percent of funding unless the state’s public universities hit six performance-based goals designated by the Department of Higher Education.
“I don’t get a feeling in the General Assembly that they are in agreement with this approach,” explained Marble. “Performance-funding measures came about six or eight years ago as a means of earning extra money, not taking away money to earn back core dollars…it’s really very hard to budget if there’s 10 percent or more of your budget at stake.”
As of right now, Southern, as well as all other public universities in the state, are in limbo until this year’s state session comes to an end. Marble said it may be as late as May 1 by the time the University knows anything about the state appropriations it will, or will not, receive. That doesn’t even count the number of weeks the Governor would have to sign or veto a bill sent to his desk.
“If, in fact, we had to try to make up that 10 percent cut…it would be like a 20 percent tuition increase on all students,” said Marble. “So that’s pretty serious.”
But for Marble, there’s some confusion as to the reasoning behind these large, destructive cuts. Recent figures out of the Missouri Department of Higher Education and the University of Missouri’s Economic & Policy Analysis Research center show that though Missouri’s net general revenue has steadily increased since the end of the recession in 2010, higher education appropriations have steadily declined.
In addition to the lower funding that universities like Southern have received over the past eight years, schools are also struggling with the limits that have been imposed on their ability to raise tuition. Senate Bill 389, passed in 2007, locked universities in with their tuition that year and mandated that they couldn’t raise it past a certain percentage of that number. While Marble explained that many universities immediately raised their tuition to provide a cushion in the case of more cuts, Southern, under the leadership of Dr. Julio León, opted not to do so.
“He was trying to do the right thing,” said Marble.
As a result of this decision, Southern is very limited on how much it can raise its tuition to combat budget shortfalls. Failure to comply with this rule will result in a five percent fine, which amounts to over a million dollars.
Even if they could raise the tuition, though, Marble says they could never raise it enough to close the gap a 10 percent cut would create.
“There’s no way I’m going to recommend a 20 percent increase,” he said.
Though Marble, Vice President Dr. Brad Hodson, and other administrators from the various universities in the state have repeatedly testified at the capitol, he said it can seem self-serving. The most meaningful testimony he’s witnessed, he said, came from a University of Missouri student who testified in favor of Senate Bill 912. This bill, if passed, will reduce the restraint of caps put on tuition by Senate Bill 389 in 2007.
“She said, ‘I know it sounds crazy for a student to be testifying in favor of something that could be a tuition increase bill, but we have to take care of our university,’” said Marble. When she was talking, Marble explained, “everyone in that Senate panel, they were paying perfect attention.”
It’s for this reason that Marble believes “we need a student movement.”
“Get your voice in front of the governor, and people that are making decisions,” said Marble. “We want to give you the high-quality education you desire and deserve.”