MU still a good value, president says

Monday, April 28, 2008 | 10:57 p.m. CDT; updated 6:49 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

UM System President Gary Forsee came from a household where there was an appreciation for higher education, and his family encouraged him to go to college.

That was more than 30 years ago, when tuition was less than $30 per credit hour.

Times have changed, and tuition has steadily increased. Today, it costs about $291 per credit hour, or $4,365 for a typical semester for in-state students. Forsee, who gave the 2008 Monroe-Paine Distinguished Lecture in Public Affairs on Monday, said he understands that the increase in tuition over the years makes higher education an unattainable goal for some families.

But, he said, public higher education still offers value to its stakeholders. For example, Forsee cited U.S. Census reports that show those who complete a bachelor’s degree make about $800,000 more in a lifetime than those without a bachelor’s.

Forsee said that one of the challenges in making MU more affordable is to get more state funding. He noted that state funding for MU is among the lowest for public universities in the nation.

Bob Banning, a former MU public administration major who was here for his 50th college reunion, said he was shocked to hear about MU’s funding.

“I was appalled that MU was 47th on the funding list,” Banning said. “But, I believe he’s got a plan to move forward.”

Additionally, MU faculty salaries lag behind other Big 12 schools.

Forsee said he researched MU’s funding challenges before he began as the UM System’s 22nd president in February.

“I spent a lot of time immersing myself into the challenges I was about to take on,” Forsee said.

Forsee has been on a sales call of sorts, boasting to politicians and business groups about the benefits MU brings to the state.

He echoed similar sentiments Monday. The UM System, he said, is the “economic engine for the state.”

He said MU generates $1.1 billion in economic activity, provides more than 13,000 jobs and serves some 80,000 patients through University Hospital and its affiliated clinics.

Forsee also said that two discoveries made at MU made the list of Discover magazine’s top 100 science stories.

“I have been so impressed with what we do at this institution,” Forsee said.

Charles Nemmers, Director of the Transportation Infrastructure Center in the engineering department, said that people need to look beyond statistics for economic impact.

“We oftentimes look at the economic impact on dollars,” he said. “There’s a another impact that’s more important — people being more educated.”

Forsee offered several solutions to the financial obstacles faced by the UM System, including finding new funding resources, addressing faculty and staff pay and leading the discussion of complex policy issues.

Charles McClain, a former commissioner of Higher Education in Missouri, said he’s impressed with Forsee’s approach.

“It’s clear that he’s studying, developing and analyzing a plan for the future of the UM System,” said McClain, who is also a former president of Truman State University.

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