JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri ranks near the bottom nationally in providing funding for public colleges and universities but is a national leader in issuing graduate degrees, according to a report released Thursday by the state's higher education board.
Overall, Missouri ranks in the middle for most of the educational categories, according to the Missouri Department of Higher Education, which compared how the state's public colleges and universities stacked up against those in other states during the 2007-2008 school year.
The Missouri report compiled information from several existing national studies to draw comparisons with other states. Those data sources included a report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a higher education data compilation project by Illinois State University and information from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Missouri is spending $173.76 per capita for the operating expenses of colleges and universities in the current budget. That's the fifth lowest, sagging behind the national average of $274.40 and trailing bordering states by about $112 per person. Missouri has boosted spending on higher education institutions in the budget in recent years, but overall, it has dropped by 7 percent over the last seven years.
Nationwide, Wyoming is spending the most at nearly $589 and New Hampshire the least at $105.27.
While behind on the money, Missouri is ahead of the class for issuing degrees. It ranked 14th with nearly 59 bachelor's degrees awarded per 1,000 Missouri residents ages 18-25. And it was the sixth highest in issuing 36 postgraduate degrees per 1,000 residents.
The study also sought to determine the extent to which colleges and universities have boosted Missouri's economy. For example, it calculated that $921 million was added to the state economy because of university research, conferences and other functions. That was below the national average but ranked 16th nationally.
In other categories, Missouri finished in the middle. For example, the number of invention disclosures and patents stemming from Missouri research was ranked 22nd and 24th.
Tuition also is on par with other states. After financial aid, families used roughly 23 percent of their income to pay for two-year schools and 29 percent for four-year schools. Nationally, the percentage of family income used to pay for higher education ranked 23rd for two-year schools and 28th for four-year institutions.
Higher education commissioner Robert Stein said the report would help give policymakers objective data.
"Is average good enough for Missourians? That is a decision to be collectively made by citizens, elected officials and education professionals," Stein said. "If we are really to rise above average, higher education must aspire to bring together economic development and pre-K through 12 to move education forward in Missouri."
It's the first of what education officials intend to be a yearly check of Missouri's efforts to help more people earn college degrees and to boost the state's economy.