COLUMBIA — Potential cuts in state funding for colleges and universities could result in extreme tuition increases, the possible closing of one university and a negative impact on the state's economy, the Missouri Department of Higher Education reported Tuesday.
The report, which was submitted to the General Assembly on Monday, summarizes potential impacts of funding reductions at state universities and colleges. The information was an overview of all cuts facing state-funded institutions and highlighted several where the impacts would severely impair a school’s ability to serve its students.
Among those listed:
- Harris-Stowe State University: Cuts of 20 to 25 percent could force the school to close.
- Missouri Southern State University: Tuition increases of 23 to 38 percent would be needed to account for lost funding.
- Missouri Western State University: A 25 percent cut would take $1.3 million away from scholarships, financial aid and employment opportunities.
- Missouri State University: A 25 percent budget cut would equal more than the total amount of scholarships and financial aid awarded to students, or the entire budget of any of the colleges at the university.
- Truman State University: A 25 percent reduction, and possible cuts of 15 and 20 percent, would prevent the institution from fulfilling its mission as a highly selective public liberal arts institution.
Reductions in state funding could lead universities to ask for a waiver from a state law that prevents raising tuition above the Consumer Price Index, a common measure of inflation.
Community colleges also would be hit hard by funding reductions, and tuition increases of up to 17.4 percent were predicted along with the potential closure of some facilities. State Fair Community College would have to eliminate its Lake of the Ozarks Education Center and two campus childcare centers in St. Louis, the report said. Additionally, the report summarized potential layoffs of up to 234 positions.
University and college administrators and state officials warn that further reductions in funding would limit access to higher education and threaten Missouri's economy.
Constance Gully, the vice president for business and financial affairs at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, said tuition would have to be increased beyond what many Harris-Stowe students could afford, and they would no longer be able to continue their education. Enrollment declines would result in revenue losses that could threaten the school's continued existence, Gully said.
Gully also said that if Harris-Stowe were closed, the student population would not have an alternative for higher education. The mission statement for the university is to provide affordable education to St. Louis residents who would not necessarily be served by other institutions.
"They would have a huge population that would be eliminated as far as access to higher education. Our prayer is that cuts will not reach 20 to 25 percent," Gully said.
The report also predicted that reduced state funding would lead to several academic programs being eliminated at community colleges, including technical education, career education and continued education.
Evelyn Jorgenson, the president of Moberly Area Community College, said that the school's student population is largely made up of adults retraining for new jobs or part-time students who are already struggling to afford community college.
In addition to potential layoffs contributing to Missouri's unemployment rate — which, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, is up 1 percent compared with this time a year ago — funding reductions would affect local businesses across mid-Missouri, Jorgenson said.
"We have nearly as many students in Columbia as we do in Moberly. There will be impact on businesses that sell us equipment and supplies, students that have to pay more for tuition, and if positions are eliminated, there would be continued unemployment," Jorgenson said.
Community colleges serve a critical role in bad economic times, said Paul Wagner, deputy commissioner of the Missouri Department of Higher Education.
"In times of economic downturn, community college enrollment goes up. When you cut institutional funding in this environment, when they're some of the most poorly funded in the nation, you can't expect them to teach and serve the same number of students," Wagner said.
Wagner was the primary author of the report, which states that institutions of higher education account for $3 billion of the state's economy. The report also predicts that reduced state funding would have a proportional effect on local communities.
Missouri Southern University, located in Joplin, could raise tuition by as much as 38 percent. Spokesperson Rod Surber was concerned what impact such an increase would have on the school's students and the region's economy.
"We believe that Missouri Southern is one of the economic engines of the region. We have about 500 employees; we generate a lot of revenue in this region," Surber said.
Surber, like other university and college administrators, said he worries about the effects of tuition increases on students who are already struggling to make ends meet.
"About 30 percent of our students are non-traditional; a lot of those students have families and children to pay for in addition to paying for school," Surber said.
Wagner said the Department of Higher Education submitted the summary report on Monday to both the Missouri State House of Representatives and Senate appropriations committees.
Missouri ranks No. 47 in the nation in per capita support for higher education, spending $159 per student as compared with $297 in Kansas, $303 in Arkansas, and $227 in Illinois. Missouri's low ranking is largely the result of spending cuts in 2001-02, when the state budget was balanced by reducing higher education funding, according to the report.
"These scenarios are really the beginning of this conversation," said Wagner, who expects the issue will not be resolved until the state budget is finalized this spring.