State treasurer candidates weigh in on higher education

Monday, August 4, 2008 | 5:43 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA - Higher education will be among the most significant issues facing Missouri's next state treasurer, as the state continues to receive low marks for college affordability. Missouri ranks 47th among the 50 states in spending on higher education, and the University of Missouri System has the highest tuition among the Big 12 Conference states. The four Democratic candidates for state treasurer each offered his or her outlook and ideas for addressing higher education costs. Their responses follow. Republican Brad Lager, who is unopposed in Tuesday's election, did not respond.



What is the importance of higher education costs as an issue?

"After effectively managing the state's banking and investment portfolio, it will be the most important issue for my administration. Missouri has the highest public tuition in the Big 12 Conference. At the same time the state is under-funding higher education, it is also eliminating opportunities for students and families to reasonably finance their education. The treasurer is positioned, as a statewide elected official, to contribute and add value to policy discussions that affect Missourians. Missouri needs a leader on higher education, and I have the record and ideas we need to make college affordable for all Missourians."

What is the reason for problem?

"State appropriations to Missouri's public colleges and universities are inadequate to keep tuition at affordable levels."

What is the first thing you would do to solve this problem if elected?

"I would call for the state treasurer to be a member of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority. I would then work to return the board to focusing on their original purpose of providing low-interest loans. We should also look at increasing MOHELA's bonding capacity to create tuition grants and return borrower benefit programs for qualified students."

What can the state treasurer do to help college affordability?

"The state treasurer can best help by speaking out on the economic importance of adequately funding higher education. As the administrator of the state college savings program, the treasurer can also help families save for college."



What is the importance of higher education costs as an issue?

"It is and would be very important because the treasurer oversees the state's IRS Section 529 college savings plan. The program has been improved in recent years, in my opinion, particularly with the changeover from management by TIAA-CREF to the American Century and Vanguard companies. Participating families now can choose from among a greater variety of plans and can have confidence in two excellent companies, one of which is based in Kansas City."

What is the reason for problem?

"The central problem is that, as with other aspects of the economy, costs are continually rising."

What is the first thing you would do to solve this problem if elected?

"Pore over the 529 plan to see if fees being charged to participants are too high."

What can the state treasurer do to help college affordability?

"By working with the governor to put pressure on the University of Missouri Board of Curators to keep costs down as much as possible."



What is the importance of higher education costs as an issue?

"In light of the current economic conditions, a college education may be slipping from the grasp of many families with young children and high goals for those youngsters. We must do better as a state in providing educational opportunities at affordable rates in order for the state of Missouri to be competitive in today's world economy. Our higher education system is not designed to be only for the wealthy, and we must keep it affordable. I have always made education one of my top priorities, as evidenced by my three terms on the Fox C-6 Board of Education, and I will continue to do so."  

What is the reason for problem?

"The system is very complex and deserves to be thoroughly analyzed prior to proclaiming there is one ‘central problem.' Tuition and related costs are closely related to our national and local economies, inflation, cost of living, geographic location, funding resources available and other factors. We must focus on solving the problem because our young people are our future, and we must provide them the tools necessary to lead future generations."

What is the first thing you would do to solve this problem if elected?

"I will form a Higher Education Task Force that will be charged with analyzing the issues and providing possible solutions related to college affordability to be distributed to all state legislators and the governor for action. The task force will be comprised of college educators, financial professionals, college student representatives, high school educators, elected officials, and community leaders from across the state."

What can the state treasurer do to help college affordability?

"The treasurer can help by 1) creating an awareness of the problem, 2) assembling a team of experts from across the state to analyze and report on the problem, and 3) providing possible solutions to the governor and legislators."



What is the importance of this issue?

"It is and will continue to be a very important issue worthy of a practical solution. I was born to a working-class family. From a young age, my parents stressed the importance of education to me. Through much hard work and dedication, I was the first in my family to graduate from college. I believe everyone should have the same chance to attend college just as I did. As Treasurer, I will advocate for more state funding for higher education and find ways to improve the state's 529 college savings plan so families can save more for college."

What is the reason for problem?

"Unfortunately, funding higher education is often viewed as a priority only during good budgetary times. It is therefore difficult for higher education institutions to predict from one year to the next what their budget will be. When the state cuts funding to higher education, for example, institutions must make up the financial loss by increasing tuition."

What is the first thing you would do to solve this problem if elected?

"The MOST 529 college savings program, once considered among the best in the country, is now considered among the worst due to excessive fees charged to families that reduce the amount they can save for college. As treasurer, I will review the program and identify ways we can lower fees charged by brokers in transaction costs so our plan is more competitive with other plans offered by nearby states. I want to ensure that our families get the best return from their investment."

What can the state treasurer do to help college affordability?

"The state treasurer currently does not have any direct authority of high education costs. However, as the state's chief financial officer, I will be a lead advocate working to address the issue of college affordability in Missouri. Currently, our state's public higher education institution tuition prices are among the highest of the Big 12 Conference. It is time pressure be put on elected officials with control over our budget to find feasible solutions to ensure a sustainable funding stream is available to support our public college and university system. In addition, I will advocate for better articulation agreements between our community colleges and four-year institutions so students don't have to repeat classes, because a college/university is unwilling to recognize credits earned at a community college. When our students have to retake classes, it means that they must pay twice for the same course, which only adds to the total cost of their education and prolongs the time it takes for them to earn a degree."


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Jeff Frese August 5, 2008 | 7:20 a.m.
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