Nixon: Missouri schools should avoid big tuition hikes

Friday, January 20, 2012 | 9:47 p.m. CST

CALIFORNIA, Mo. — Gov. Jay Nixon urged Missouri's public universities Friday not to seek large tuition increases in response to his proposed funding cuts to the institutions.

Nixon has proposed cutting state aid to public colleges and universities by 12.5 percent for the 2012-13 school year but indicated that a corresponding increase in student tuition would be unreasonable.

The Democratic governor noted that Missouri law generally limits tuition increases to the rate of inflation, unless schools receive special permission for larger increases from the state higher education commissioner.

After Nixon outlined his proposed budget this week, some university presidents said they likely would have to request permission to exceed the state tuition cap, which is set according to the previous year's consumer price index.

Nixon cautioned against it.

"Missouri has a law that says tuition shouldn't rise above CPI, and folks should do the best they can to stay within the constructs of that law," Nixon said after a news conference held at a rural meat processing plant to promote his job-training proposals.

The index rose by 3 percent from December 2010 to December 2011. Under state law, that means universities could face penalties if they raise tuition by more than 3 percent without state permission. The law also allows institutions where tuition is below the state average to increase it by slightly more than the 3 percent cap.

The Department of Higher Education sent letters dated Thursday to all institutions informing them of their specific tuition caps for the next school year.

If lawmakers adopt Nixon's proposed funding cuts, Missouri's public colleges and universities will see their state aid cut by about 25 percent over a three-year period. Their financial troubles are compounded by the fact that student enrollment has been growing and — under an agreement with Nixon — schools held tuition flat during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years.

When the University of Missouri System campuses and Missouri Western State University raised tuition by more than Nixon had deemed appropriate for the current school year, the governor responded by increasing the amount of money to be withheld from those institutions. That gives heft to Nixon's latest caution against large tuition increases.

The governor said Friday that he expects university officials to find efficiencies in their administrative budgets and develop new models of educating students to help offset the proposed state funding cuts.

"We shouldn't just look at it and say, 'All right, what we've got to do is just cost shift over to students,'" Nixon said. "I think we need to look at ways and options to continue to keep the cost of higher education affordable."

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