Missouri higher education commissioner warns of more cuts

Sunday, January 31, 2010 | 6:03 p.m. CST; updated 10:24 p.m. CST, Monday, February 1, 2010

KANSAS CITY — Missouri's higher education commissioner has warned that some of the state's colleges could be forced to make painful cuts once the two-year safety tap of federal stimulus money runs dry.

Robert Stein said in a letter to campus chancellors and presidents that unless the state's economy quickly recovers, there will be a reckoning, The Kansas City Star reported.

Stein said that to bridge the coming revenue gaps, some schools could become branches of larger ones, while others could close or be forced to go private. He also said class sizes could increase and athletic programs could be cut.

Another possibility is that schools would be required to share academic programs and services.

Stein said his predictions were so dire because of the "extensiveness of the current economic downturn and the sensitivity about using tuition to fill financial shortfalls."

He said higher education has been spared major cuts for two years, in exchange for stable tuition. But in his letter he stressed that "absent some unforeseen intervention or unprecedented economic turnaround, the state's fiscal situation will mean reduced state appropriations to public higher education."

The end of stimulus money means there could be cuts in the range of 15 percent to 20 percent.

Last year, campus leaders in Missouri braced for between 10 percent and 20 percent cuts, causing them to institute hiring freezes and cut administrative spending and some nonacademic programs.

But before the bleeding became worse, the "stimulus came along and kicked the can down the road," said Paul Wagner, deputy commissioner of higher education. "Now we are seeing a cliff at the end of 2011 and we are really worried about how we are going to manage it."

Stein wrote of crossing the state to collect suggestions and said that almost everyone who suggested ideas "agreed that if cuts of this magnitude were to pass it would be uncharted territory for higher education."

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