COLUMBIA — Uncertainty reigned Wednesday as faculty, staff and students in the University of Missouri System reacted to Gov. Jay Nixon's proposed cuts to higher education.
Some wondered if the cuts would lead to a decline in the quality of education and many speculated about how they would affect proposed increases in student tuition and course fees.
In his State of the State address Tuesday, Nixon announced that his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 includes stable funding for state college scholarships, including Bright Flight, Access Missouri and A+ scholarship programs. As written, the cost of that stability is an $89 million reduction in funding for four-year higher education institutions.
The UM System would see a nearly 13.7 percent reduction from fiscal year 2012's gross appropriations, which would be a cut of more than $55 million to the system's operating budget.
In an official statement released Wednesday, interim system president Steve Owens addressed the governor's proposed cuts.
"It is fair to ask how long we can continue to do more with less," Owens said in the release. "After a decade of reductions in state support and implementation of operational efficiencies, we are near the point where either the level of funding will have to increase or the scope and quality of services will have to decrease."
MU Chancellor Brady Deaton has yet to release a statement about the proposed reductions, and MU spokesman Christian Basi said it's too early to know the full economic impact of Nixon's proposal on the university's budget.
"We have a very long way to go in this process," Basi said. "But we will obviously be doing a lot of work until the budget is finalized."
Owens said in the statement that the system is still looking through the budget recommendation and assessing its impact on employee pay raises, student tuition increases and other cuts throughout the university.
At its December board meeting, the UM System Board of Curators discussed what a decline in state funding would mean for the system as well as potential tuition and course fee increases needed to bridge the $78 million funding gap the system already faces.
The board also discussed a proposal to raise 2012-13 tuition at MU, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Missouri-St. Louis at the rate of inflation assuming the system received the same state appropriations as in fiscal year 2012.
Faculty Council Chairman Harry Tyrer said there are ways to alleviate some financial pressure, but they might cause other problems.
"The faculty work very hard to maintain standards, so I don’t believe the quality of education is in danger, but this may cause concern financially for students,” Tyrer said. “The university can increase enrollment to increase our budget, but doing so will run us into other problems, such as possibly higher classroom fees. More students mean more laboratory equipment and classroom space, which is a problem because we are already pushing our capacity levels.”
Corbin Evans, legislative director of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, said the quality of education might be affected if the university was unable to pay for the best faculty or maintain efficient class sizes. He also expressed concern that the quality of different facilities might not remain up-to-date, which might affect students with specialized majors.
"I'm almost certain (the decreased appropriations) would result in a tuition increase," Evans said.
Nick Prewett, MU student financial aid interim director, said in an email that with higher tuition costs comes lower accessibility to Missouri colleges and universities. Students with already-limited resources would find it difficult to attend college, he said.
The proposal still needs to be reviewed by legislators, some of whom might protest the proposed cuts. According to a report by the Associated Press, Kurt Schaefer, senate appropriations committee chairman and Columbia Republican, plans to resist the proposed cuts.
"As we move forward together, the university remains committed to working with the governor and the legislature to find ways to adequately fund higher education and to maintain the quality and excellence that Missourians rightfully expect from the university," Owens said.
Breanna Dumbacher, Ryan Finan, Abigail Geiger, Margaux Henquinet, Allie Hinga and Zach Murdock contributed to this report.