UPDATE: Nixon warns of more higher-education budget cuts

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 | 6:36 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon challenged college presidents and chancellors Tuesday to do more with less, even as his budget director offered grim financial projections for public higher education next year.

The governor's first higher education summit drew a who's who of academic leaders in Missouri, bringing together leaders of the state's four-year and two-year colleges — public and private — along with provosts, faculty members and governing board bosses from most of the state's 35 public and 23 private institutions.

From the outset, the message was straightforward: Prepare for more budget cuts.

"We know there's not going to be more money," said budget director Linda Luebbering. "So what can you do to improve efficiencies?"

Missouri's public colleges and universities absorbed about $50 million in cuts for the current academic year, or roughly 5 percent, in exchange for a pledge to keep undergraduate tuition for state residents flat for a second consecutive year. That deal didn't prevent the elimination of another $54 million in state scholarships in June to balance the budget.

Luebbering told the 150 summit participants that she expects more reductions to higher education spending will be necessary in the next fiscal year, which starts in July 2011. Both she and Nixon cautioned such predictions are preliminary and subject to lawmaker approval.

Nixon portrayed the budget forecast in terms of challenges rather than obstacles.

"The bottom line is clear: We're going to need to roll up our sleeves and find new ways to become even more efficient in the delivery of higher quality education," he said.

Even with Missouri expected to receive $189 million for K-12 schools from the federal stimulus program, a shortfall of $400 million to $500 million in the fiscal 2012 budget is expected, Luebbering said. And that gap could grow due to what she called "optimistic" projections of a $420 million increase in state revenues.

To that end, Nixon invited a pair of national higher education innovators to share ideas about what the governor called an "agile, aggressive response to the changing demands of higher education."

Carol Twigg, president of the National Center for Academic Transformation, focused on ways to better incorporate technology into introductory, large lecture hall courses. Lumina Foundation Vice President Dewayne Matthews highlighted ways to boost the state's economy by increasing the number of college graduates.

The budget update offered few surprises to Tom George, chancellor of the University of Missouri system's St. Louis campus. He called the projections "more palatable" considering the recent federal support, but also acknowledged that less money could mean increased class sizes and fewer courses available to students.

"We are amazingly resilient," he said. "We still have to provide the very best education with fewer resources."

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