JEFFERSON CITY — Republican gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof pledged Wednesday to increase state spending on higher education while also enticing more private money into colleges and universities.
Hulshof, who's from Columbia, proposed to create a higher education funding formula that would increase each year by the rate of inflation, plus 2 percentage points, beginning in 2011.
Missouri ranks 47th nationally in per capita state spending for higher education institutions, ahead of only Colorado, Vermont and New Hampshire, according to the Grapevine project at Illinois State University.
"That's unacceptable," Hulshof said while outlining his higher education initiatives at Lincoln University in Jefferson City. "We have been seriously underfunding higher education."
coState budget troubles led then-Gov. Bob Holden and lawmakers to cut funding for colleges and universities beginning in 2001. Only recently have state expenditures again come close to their pre-cut levels.
Had his funding formula been in place, colleges and universities would have received more money than they did in seven of the past nine years, Hulshof said.
Hulshof also proposed Wednesday to put $50 million over five years into beefing up college degree programs in biotechnology, math, chemistry and engineering. To get money through his "Missouri Prosperity Initiative," colleges and universities would need to attract a 2-to-1 match from businesses or charities.
A portion of the money also could go toward university endowments used to attract top-flight researchers to Missouri, Hulshof said.
Hulshof, currently Missouri's 9th District congressman, is running for governor against Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon.
Nixon's $61 million annual "Missouri Promise" plan would offer students who get good grades and perform community service the chance to get four years of free college tuition, so long as they start at a community college before moving on to a university.
Hulshof expressed concern about Nixon's proposal when asked about it at Wednesday's news conference.
"Attorney General Nixon's plan seems to push kids toward community colleges, perhaps at the expense of four-year institutions," Hulshof said. "We should not restrict choices for Missouri students."
But Nixon spokesman Oren Shur said the plan is intended to provide more choices.
"Right now, too many Missourians are faced with an awful choice: skip college and all the opportunities that come with a degree, or graduate with tens of thousands of dollars of debt," Shur said. "Jay Nixon's plan is designed to directly help those middle-class families who are currently getting squeezed out of a college education."
Hulshof's proposal also includes a scholarship element. He pledged to further increase funding for financial-needs based scholarships, which can be used by students at public or private institutions. He also proposed to designate a portion specifically for math and science students.
Lawmakers this year put nearly $96 million into the Access Missouri scholarship program. The one-third increase in funding will allow the scholarships to be given to families with adjusted gross incomes of as much as $200,000, up significantly from last year's income cutoff of about $72,000.
Hulshof said he wants to require public colleges and universities to provide information for an annual Missouri Higher Education Accountability and Performance Report.
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