COLUMBIA — Gov. Jay Nixon's proposed plan to freeze tuition is a step in the right direction, University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee said on Wednesday, but there's much more work to do.
"The higher education business model, the funding model, is broken," Forsee said in a morning news conference at MU with Nixon and MU Chancellor Brady Deaton. "The time to start reforming that path is now."
Later, Deaton said Nixon's plan would mean that the hiring freeze in place at MU and other UM institutions since November 2008 would likely continue for the foreseeable future.
Nixon has proposed freezing undergraduate tuition next year for Missouri residents at four-year public institutions across the state. In exchange, the governor has pledged to recommend that state higher education appropriations be cut by 5.2 percent, or about $42 million, next year, preserving 95 percent of the current state appropriations.
The affected undergraduate resident tuition accounts for about 50 percent of the $270 million tuition and supplemental fees revenue at MU, said MU Budget Director Tim Rooney. Tuition and state appropriations combined account for more than 90 percent of MU's operating costs.
At the news conference, Forsee spoke of the need to explore more efficient models of education that would employ Internet tools and flexible scheduling as well as align standards across all levels of education.
"Today there are high school graduation requirements that don't match to college entrance requirements," Forsee said, echoing statements he made on Tuesday when Nixon announced his plan in St. Louis. "Every junior high school student in this state ought to have a pathway lighted showing them how to get to college and what that opportunity can provide."
Forsee, who had just returned from an annual meeting of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, cited MU's recent partnership with Cerner Corp. to create the Tiger Institute of Health as an example of another funding avenue to be explored.
State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, praised MU's exploration of private sources of funding but said funding from the private sector will not replace the need for state funding. "The amount of money is not comparable," Kelly said in a separate interview.
Rather than seek outside funding, Kelly said state university officials need to assert their needs more strongly to politicians.
"For a long time, the university has been too submissive to the state," Kelly said.
As an example of the kind of efforts universities need to be making, Kelly cited Nixon's reversal of proposed cuts to MU Extension earlier this year.
After the news conference, Deaton said the university will continue to maintain a strong commitment to Mizzou Advantage, MU's recently unveiled plan to increase collaboration and hire new faculty in five key interdisciplinary areas of institutional strength. But reduced appropriations and a tuition freeze "create a tight environment," Deaton said.
Nixon hopes that a proposed tuition freeze would have a positive effect on the entire state.
"Keeping higher education affordable is one of the best steps we can take to turn this economy around," Nixon told the gathering at Reynolds Alumni Center.
But Kelly questioned whether the proposed tuition freeze should have come from the governor in the first place.
"I don't believe the state government ought to be in the business of telling the curators how to run this institution," Kelly said.
Kelly was critical of Nixon's decision not to include legislators in discussion of the plan. Legislators were "informed, rather than consulted" about the governor's proposed plan, Kelly said.
Legislators will ultimately decide whether to approve the plan, Kelly said, not the governor.
Nixon's plan requires the approval of the Missouri General Assembly, which will convene in January, and the governing boards of the affected state institutions.