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Gov. Nixon, university presidents agree to freeze tuition again

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 | 9:55 p.m. CST; updated 10:00 p.m. CST, Tuesday, November 17, 2009

COLUMBIA — The Missouri General Assembly has to approve a promise from Gov. Jay Nixon that in-state undergraduates won't pay more in tuition next year.

Nixon announced a proposal Tuesday that Missouri’s four-year public colleges and universities will not see higher tuition or academic fees, a promise he also made in January for this fiscal year. In return, the state won't decrease funding much.

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But federal stabilization funds are set to expire by 2012, so schools will have to make cuts unless they get more money from other sources.

The agreement has to pass through the institutions’ governing boards and the  General Assembly, which begins its session in January. The General Assembly makes the state budget, which the governor approves.

According to a news release, Nixon has agreed to maintain higher education funding at about 95 percent of the this year’s appropriation — a reduction of $42 million.

If the agreement passes both the General Assembly and the institutions' governing boards, it will affect 13 Missouri public universities, including the entire University of Missouri System.

"There will be no increase for Missouri families," Holste said.

In other states, tuition has increased by an average of 6.5 percent nationally in the past year, the release stated. Some have seen increases of nearly 17 percent.

MU's tuition has increased every year for the past decade before the current freeze. The largest was an 18.1 percent increase for the 2003-04 school year.

Because it must pass through the General Assembly, the decision to freeze tuition is one that is evaluated annually, Holste said.

UM System President Gary Forsee said freezing tuition after years of budget cuts and rising tuition has "started to stabilize this roller coaster that we've been on."

Forsee said it is important to plan for 2012 now.

"Every dollar now has a multiplying effect later," Forsee said.

Forsee will meet with administrators Wednesday to address some of the budget issues.

According to the MU Cashiers Web site, in-state undergraduate students pay $245.60 per credit hour, whereas out-of-state students pay that fee plus $369.70 per hour. In-state graduate students pay $298.70 per hour.

Here's how the rest of MU's undergraduate fees break down:

  • Recreation Facility Fee — Students enrolled in more than six credit hours pay $133.11 per semester for use of the Student Recreation Complex.
  • Student Activity Fee — Undergraduates enrolled in more than 11 credit hours are charged a $157.56 per semester fee. If the number of credits is not more than 11, the fee is determined per credit hour or any fraction of that.
  • Prepaid Health Fee — A $92.78 per semester fee is charged to students enrolled in more than six credit hours, and is optional to those with fewer hours.

  •  Information Technology Fee — Students are charged $12.20 per credit hour.

In addition to these fees, many schools within the university charge students accepted into their programs with specific course fees.

But these supplemental course fees are not included in the tuition freeze. In addition, graduate, out-of-state and department fees are excluded from the freeze, Forsee said. He said they could rise but the decision to do so is made with the discretion of universities.

Lex Akers, MU College of Engineering associate dean for academic programs, said the school charges $54.50 per credit hour for students enrolled in engineering courses. Though he is uncertain if these fees will increase, he said he is sympathetic to students.

"If we can hold funding to the university during these difficult financial times, it's wonderful for both the university and the citizens of Missouri," he said.

In May, Missouri lawmakers passed a budget that spares colleges and universities from cuts to their core operating budgets for the 2009-10 school year. They did so by tapping into millions of dollars of what's known as the "budget stabilization" portion of the federal stimulus package, as previously reported in the Missourian.

Future Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said in a news release that Nixon's announcement is premature.

"We have yet to determine the coming year's budget consensus revenue," Mayer said in the release. "That means we do not yet know how much money will even be in the state's bank account to fund the critical functions of state government."

Mayer said he wishes the freeze agreement will extend to fees other than tuition.

"It is my hope that the agreement includes freezes in the ancillary costs that students incur while attending college, such as their room and board, meals and recreation fees, among others," he said.

Other state legislators, such as Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, and House Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, said they supported the governor's strategy to make it clear what he wants early.

"I think it's great for Missouri families and students to know they're not going to have to dig deeper in their pockets," Bray said.

Both legislators said it was still early in the process and specifics could change as more details about how the final budget will look become more apparent.

Nixon will speak at a press conference at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Reynolds Alumni Center. Forsee and MU Chancellor Brady Deaton are also expected to attend.


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